Sound And Vision: Why Hasn’t Tabloid Notoriety Turned John Mayer into a Total Joke?

“John Mayer Gets a Haircut After Katy Perry Split!”

As breaking news of the day goes, it’s not exactly groundbreaking. Still, there it was, in multiple variations, splattered across the online pages of E!, Us Weekly, Entertainment Weekly (which called it a hair break-over), People magazine and so many other websites devoted, in large and small part, to such trivialities. You’d think Samson had risen from the dead and taken up guitar.

But wait! Shouldn’t Delilah ” I mean, Katy Perry ” have been the star of this life (and a new ˜do)-after-love story? Traditionally, the celebrity tabloids and gossip websites pursue female celebrities about whom they date, whom they marry, whom they divorce, to search for baby bumps, and fashion dos and don’ts. Guys generally get in only when they’re dating one of them. (Why do you think Nickelback singer Chad Kroeger, who once went from long to short without causing so much as a media ripple and is now engaged to Avril Lavigne, is suddenly “newsworthy”?)

By those standards, John Mayer must be some kind of publicity-baiting genius. In the last several years, he’s made himself as much of a tabloid fixture as an A-list starlet by dating a succession of them: Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, Taylor Swift, and most recently, Katy Perry, his pop-star paramour of a few months. (more…)

Sound & Vision: Can Muse Become the Biggest Band in the World?

Move over, Coldplay. And tell U2 the news. Muse is gunning for the latter bands’ longtime job, the one for which the former might be considered naturally next in line: biggest rock band on the planet.

Bono, for one, may have seen this coming. When Muse opened for U2 on U.S. dates of the iconic Irish band’s 360° Tour in September and October of 2009, U2 frontman Bono touted the young English trio as one to watch ” and listen to ” the next biggest thing. Muse deserved the distinction: What other rock & roll band can claim responsibility for inspiring the Twilight saga?

And, finally, thank you to the talented musicians who inspire me, particularly the band Muse ” there are emotions, scenes, and plot threads in this novel that were born from Muse songs and would not exist without their genius.

” Twilight author Stephenie Meyer

But being the muse of a best-selling author and earning plum spots on the soundtracks to the blockbuster films based on her blockbuster book series do not ruling rock Gods make. Muse, though, is about to give it a shot with their upcoming sixth album, The 2nd Law (due October 2), which is receiving perhaps the biggest pre-release marketing push since Lady Gaga‘s Born This Way. (more…)

Sound And Vision: Post-Mortem Pop, Starring Drake’s Aaliyah Resurrection and the Second Coming of Whitney Houston

Drake must be the luckiest guy in music. He’s got an enviable portfolio of assets: looks, talent, street cred, excellent connections, gold and multi-platinum. Now the Canadian rapper has a beautiful woman, too”at least a controlling interest in her legacy. But is ownership of the next posthumous phase of Aaliyah’s career one benefit too many?

That’s what some are wondering as we approach the 11th anniversary (on August 25) of the death of Aaliyah, who was killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas in 2001, at age 22, cutting short one of the most promising careers in music. Since then, there’s been scant new material issued under her name. I Care 4 U, a posthumous album released in December of 2002, was followed by nearly a decade of silence.

Until now. Earlier this month, Drake unveiled a new Aaliyah track, Enough Said, credited to Aaliyah featuring Drake and produced by the rapper’s Take Care collaborator Noah 40 Shebib. There’s more: Drake has promised a new Aaliyah album, executive produced by himself and 40, with 13 or 14 tracks, to be released later this year.

“Enough Said” Aaliyah featuring Drake

But is it a true Aaliyah album if key players in her life and legacy”namely her immediate family”are left out of it? Her brother, Rashad Haughton, went so far as to deny the family’s involvement on Aaliyah’s Facebook fan page. There is no official album being released and supported by the Haughton family, he posted on August 7, several days after Drake released the new single. (more…)

Is the Next Adele a Guy?

For at least another year or two, all of the U.K.’s up-and-coming sisters (and brothers) with voices will have their work cut out for them. As if it’s not already tough enough to rise above the pop pack, they’ll also have to contend with all of those inevitable Adele comparisons.

Is she (or he) the next Adele, the future of U.K.-bred pop talent hoping to achieve global domination?

Admit it: You wonder, too”every time a great new voice emerges from the British music scene. With the ruling pop diva of the last two years now between albums (perhaps she’ll be back in the autumn singing the theme for the next James Bond film, Skyfall) and expecting her first child with boyfriend Simon Konecki, the battle is on for the keys to the kingdom that the princess hasn’t even yet vacated.

If you’ve got a great voice and/or a slightly unconventional pop sound and/or look, if you’re more substance than style, to the front of the line you go. It’s the latest greatest aspiration in pop since the days when it was all about being the next Amy Winehouse, whether you sounded anything like her or not. Challenging Adele might be as scary a proposition as walking in the late Winehouse’s scuffed shoes might have been (terrifying for reasons that had everything and nothing to do with Winehouse’s talent), but at least fans are in for some great music. Recently, I heard a Rumer (the off-the-beaten-pop-path singer behind 2010’s Seasons of My Soul and this year’s Boys Don’t Cry), and my first thought was “Is this it?”

Rumer isn’t the only talented singer who’s making me listen and wonder. Here are three others:

Emeli Sandé (Current hits: My Kind of Love and Next to Me) In June, a friend sent me the video for Sandé’s recent single, Next to Me, on Facebook, with a short and sweet message: love… After watching the clip, my first impression was Sara Bareilles with a really dated look. White on black is so mid-˜90s! My second impression: How is it that everybody all over the world doesn’t already know her name (which, incidentally, is actually Adele Emeli Sandé)?  (more…)

Sound and Vision: Do Today's Pop Music Producers Have Too Much Power?

Something interesting recently went down atop the U.K. singles and album charts. Elton John reigned on the list of best-selling albums with a collection of 40-year-old songs, while Florence + the Machine was No. 1 on the singles chart for the first time ever. The band’s vehicle? A song that was originally produced by Paul Epworth, a regular Adele collaborator (Rolling in the Deep and He Won’t Go, the best song on 21) who had never managed to go that high in the U.K. working with the world’s biggest female pop star.

Alas, he wasn’t exactly scaling that height with Florence either”at least not alone. And therein lies the twist in this chart saga: a good beat. Those Elton John classics had been updated with a danceable 2012 electro sheen by Australian production duo Pnau on the chart-topping Good Morning to the Night, an album featuring dozens of John songs from between 1970 and 1977 crammed into eight tracks and credited to Elton John Vs Pnau, while Florence’s Epworth-produced Ceremonials track “Spectrum” was the leading single via the re-titled and remixed-by-DJ/producer Calvin Harris (for optimal under-the-strobelight consumption) “Spectrum (Say My Name) (Calvin Harris Mix).”

When Bryan Ferry sang, “Don’t stop the dance,” was this what he had in mind? Beat-driven pop where singers share star billing with the producers who boost them to the top? More than ever, the recording arts have become a producer’s medium, in much the same way that film is a director’s medium, with the behind-the-scenes talent dominating both the sound and the vision. (The stage, in singing“when it’s actually live“as in acting, remains the domain of the performer.) With a smaller pool of star producers creating a bigger bulk of the hits, pop music has become as homogenized as Hollywood blockbusters.

According to Ron Fair, a veteran music executive and producer who has worked with Christina Aguilera, Fergie and Lady Gaga, it’s a logical progression from how records are now made. A producer today is a hybrid role of producer, songwriter, and beat maker, he says. What we used to call arranging is now called making beats, so generally, the producer is the guy who walks in with the song. Back in [Beatles producer] George Martin’s and [Linda Ronstadt/James Taylor producer] Peter Asher’s day, they weren’t responsible for making songs.

Dance music, however, has always been more of a producer’s forum than middle-of-the-road pop. But with disco in the ’70s, it didn’t always show. When one remembers Donna Summer’s greatest hits, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” or Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood,” the spectacular vocals probably come to mind first, then the beat.  (more…)

Sound and Vision: Pop's Greatest Gender Benders – Songs That Sound Better Sung By the Opposite Sex

One of the best releases of 2012 to date is Boys Don’t Cry, an album of covers recorded by Anglo-Pakistani singer-songwriter Rumer (nee Sarah Joyce). As a vocalist, Rumer is soothing and smooth, strictly middle-of-the-road enough to earn her an invitation from U.S. President Barack Obama to perform at the White House in May, the month her album came out ” but that’s not to say she doesn’t have a slightly subversive streak.

After all, who chooses to release a collection of remakes for their second full-length studio album. (Rumer’s 2010 debut, Seasons of My Soul, earned her widespread acclaim, two Brit Award nominations, and a platinum certification in the U.K.)

Then there is the theme of Boys Don’t Cry (whose title was not inspired by The Cure song, which is not among the album tracks): Everything on it was written and performed by male artists in the ’70s. Somehow Rumer makes quintessentially guy songs like Ronnie Lane‘s “Just for a Moment” (about an instant of clarity in a drunken haze) and Neil Young‘s “A Man Needs a Maid” (title: self-explanatory) sound strong enough for a man but made for a woman.

(more…)