BBC – Music – Review of Olly Murs

Wherever he goes, whatever he does, Olly Murs will always be the man who finished second to Joe McElderry in X Factor 2009. However, whoever wins the short-term reality TV battle is not guaranteed to win the pop war.

And so, as McElderry drifts gently off into oblivion like a disconsolate Furby, Essex boy Murs sold-out his arena tour of 2012. His similarly sized 2013 trek will bear identical fruit.

Albums wise, he’s now on number three and he’s progressing more speedily than even his hastily convened fanbase might have predicted. How many decisions he makes for himself remains an unknown, as does how hard he works for his songwriting credits (11 from 12 songs here), but it’s all coming together.

For all its battalions of writers and producers, Right Place Right Time is a surprisingly coherent affair. Taking its cue from latter-day Take That and underpinned by military drumming, Army of Two is a pop thumper of the highest order. With a scarf-waving chorus that peak-period Bon Jovi would have sold their souls to have written, Loud & Clear runs it close in the kitchen sink productions stakes.

Flo Rida offers a brief but engaging cameo on Troublemaker, and there’s a super-sweet innocence to the impossibly happy (and chaste) first date tale “with the girl I might love” that is What a Buzz.

Elsewhere, Head to Toe is slightly more adult in content, and Murs offers a certain amount of gravitas on the dramatic, tubular-bells-assisted Dear Darlin’.

There is filler, and Hey You Beautiful could be an anthem for wolf-whistling builders the world over. But Murs hurls himself into these songs with a sure-footed touch that belies his reality show background.

Right now, the knowingly titled, impossibly bouncy and genuinely likeable Right Place Right Time is the best Olly Murs can do – but, if he keeps growing, there may be better to come.

With everything going his way, this is probably exactly how he thought being a pop star would turn out. Only the truly flint-hearted could not wish him well.

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This album is reviewed on Jo Whiley’s Radio 2 show on 3 December 2012

BBC – Music – Review of Girls Aloud

Now celebrating their tenth anniversary, Girls Aloud have released an almost blight-free series of fantastic singles and breathtaking albums. They’ve come a long way from their reality TV beginnings, becoming not only tabloid darlings but close to national treasures.

On hiatus after 2008’s Out of Control, Girls Aloud left something of a hole in the mainstream music landscape. The Saturdays did a fine job of stepping in as replacements – but as time passed, so demand for a Girls Aloud reunion grew. And now they’re back to restore balance to the pop cosmos.

Although members have dabbled in solo careers, there’s a real feeling of completeness when these five – Nicola Roberts, Nadine Coyle, Cheryl Cole, Kimberley Walsh and Sarah Harding – click back into formation. There’s the sense that they each only achieve true star quality when a component of Girls Aloud.

Ten is an update of 2006’s best-of The Sound of Girls Aloud, with tracks added from 2007’s Tangled Up and Out of Control, plus four new songs. It’s not compiled based on chart positions, so their sole non-top-10 effort, the masterpiece of Untouchable, is rightfully included. Hardly missed are See the Day, I Think We’re Alone Now and their collaboration with Sugababes, Walk This Way.

Alongside the Xenomania hit machine, at their best Girls Aloud create a universe entirely of their own, standing as one of the greatest pop acts of this century. And all of their classics are here: the retro shimmer of The Promise; the top-class Call the Shots; the four-songs-at-once genius of Biology; and the futurist doof of Something Kinda Ooh.

As its title suggests, Something New is just that, a fanfare-like call to arms announcing the group’s return. Elsewhere, Beautiful ‘Cause You Love Me is a blub-friendly empowerment cut complete with its own fireworks; On the Metro erupts into raving-through-the-tears amazingness; and Every Now and Then is a killer-chorused banger.

Ten is incredible. It’s up there with Gold, Substance and Discography in terms of greatest-hits sets. It’s proof of how perfect pop can be in the right hands, and if it’s the last long-player Girls Aloud put their name to, their legacy is assured.

BBC – Music – Review of Youssou N’Dour

Having retired from music in order to pursue his interest in politics earlier this year, it’s unlikely that fans of Senegal’s most famous musician will be treated to any new material in the near future. So this two-disc set stands as a tantalising offering, on paper. Will it represent a rewarding trawl through N’Dour’s embryonic yet essential creative period of the 80s?

Sadly, anyone anticipating a satisfying retrospective featuring the very best from this mercurial star’s back pages is likely to be disappointed. A straightforward best-of this is not, as its 80s Classics and Rarities subtitle goes some way to conveying the truth behind its 28 tracks: that much of N’Dour’s very best material emerged after the 80s had been and gone.

The first disc offers a short-on-highlights collection of N’Dour’s early material with Étoile de Dakar, which somehow overlooks any of the outfit’s appealingly mellow Afro-Cuban-flavoured fare. The lurching mbalax of Tabaski represents a standout cut, but much of disc 1 is fairly forgettable.

Naturally, no N’Dour collection could possibly omit his masterful breakthrough hit, Immigrés – Bitim Rew. And it’s present and correct on From Senegal to the World, lighting up the first few tracks of disc 2. Badou, from the same album Immigrés – recorded in 1984 but released internationally four years later, subsequently putting its maker on the global pop map – is also included.

As From Senegal… limits itself to predominantly 80s work, it contains none of N’Dour’s fruitful work as producer and mentor to the likes of Yandé Codou Sène, Aurelio Martinez and Cheikh Lô. N’Dour recorded a fine collaborative version of Set with the latter, on his 1996 debut Ne La Thiass – the version here, which opens disc two, dates from 1990 and doesn’t measure up to the snappier 96 take.

The reflective Diabaram, N’Dour’s 1990 collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto, is an unexpected bonus of an inclusion; but mostly From Senegal… is a somewhat drab release, unlikely to stand out beside more complete N’Dour compilation sets.

BBC – Music – Review of John Carpenter

Think of any good horror flick and chances are a large part its impact was down to whichever fiend scored the moments that so shattered your nerves. Psycho and its infamous shower scene? Bernard Herrmann. The Omen? Jerry Goldsmith.

It’s less grandiose in scope, perhaps, but among those trouser-ruining ranks has to be John Carpenter’s Halloween score, and that nerve-jangling piano motif.

While the first film has rightly gone down in horror history, its first two Carpenter-assisted sequels have been perhaps unfairly overshadowed. Their scores are comparatively unknown, but no less effective, and have been rescued from the vaults by upstart label Death Waltz Recording Company, who seem hell-bent on resurrecting all manner of creepy filmic delights.

As with the likes of Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape from New York, Carpenter’s music is intimately wedded to the cinematography itself. With the first sequel he and collaborator Alan Howarth explore and expand upon that initial piano theme, tinkering with new electronic gadgetry with clear relish.

Halloween II saw the main refrain move from the ol’ Joanna to a shiny new synthesiser, the listener’s nerves finely whittled away by a terrifying score that peaks with the unbearable tension of The Shape Stalks Again and the panic attack-inducing In the Operating Room.

Closing with the irrepressible perkiness of The Chordettes’ Mr. Sandman seems at odds with the preceding terror yet also strangely fitting; and it’s a credit to what went before that even this can sound malevolent after so much creeping dread.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch bade a temporary farewell to Michael Myers, adopting a sci-fi-influenced storyline and a suitably morphed take on the original film’s sonic sentiments. Sharing certain similarities with Brad Fiedel’s Terminator score, III deals in looming tones, jarring dissonance and nape-tingling electronic scrapes akin to the kiss of a whetstone on the blade of a very, very sharp knife.

Scored by Carpenter and Howarth in real time, everything on III, from the insistent prod of First Chase to the echoing eeriness of Hello Grandma, has its rightful place. It effectively rounds off a pair of different yet inextricably linked releases that should be essential listening for anyone fond of Zombi or Cliff Martinez’s Drive soundtrack.

BBC – Music – Review of Old Crow Medicine Show

Mumford & Sons may be the poster boys for the roots revival of the 2010s, but the Old Crow Medicine Show were a step ahead. The group’s fiery string-band revivalism was a key inspiration to the English folkies (who invited them aboard 2011’s trans-American Railroad Revival Tour), and they were mining the riches of old-time music long before the Londoners unleashed their tweed-cap chic.

This is a band which has always whipped up a storm on stage, too. They caught their big break busking on the street in North Carolina, and after they were spotted by bluegrass legend Doc Watson they spent much of the 00s working in a loose partnership with Gillian Welsh and David Rawlings, and guesting on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio show.

Tradition can be problematic stuff, though; one man’s serious history is the next’s kitsch hokum. And at first glance, the folk boom seems to have hardened the OCMS’s principles. Carry Me Back shuns anything as new-fangled as electronic instruments or drums, and the exuberant and sometimes frenetic hoedown of self-written songs is grounded by the ding-dong plod of upright bass and a banjo which is strummed (rather than finger-picked, bluegrass-style).

But these string-bandsmen are no purists. Carry Me Back serves up a whole range of styles, from the breakneck square dance of the title track and a tongue-in-cheek steal from Hank Williams’ Hey Good Lookin’ to the country rock sound many will already know from the band’s much-downloaded rummage in Bob Dylan’s offcuts, Wagon Wheel. The vocal harmonies and friendly melodies of new songs like Levi – about an Iraq War casualty – and Ain’t It Enough echo distinguished cross-genre forebears like The Dillards and The Band.

And it’s the achievement of their fourth studio album that this giddy mix hangs together as an endearing whole. Carry Me Back marks a strong bid for overdue recognition – even if its appeal flags prematurely with the sub-Willie Nelson philosophising of the final track.

BBC – Music – Review of Rihanna

Unapologetic is Rihanna’s seventh album in as many years, and makes for a demanding listen. The “drunk workhorse” character of the Barbadian singer, who frequented previous albums in some capacity, is absent here.

Instead of anything cheeky or fun, this set is laced with the very real presence of someone using the spectacle of pop music to inadvertently condone abuse.

The Chris Brown duet, Nobody’s Business, is inevitably the central attraction of this album. It’s a wonderfully light throwback to late-80s piano house; but its lyrics make the listener feel like an intruder. “You’ll always be the one that I wanna come home to,” Rihanna sings, marching on down the aisle, caught up in Brown’s cooing response.

It’s not new for people to write songs about abusive relationships – recorded by the likes of Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, the 1922 blues standard Ain’t Nobody’s Business explicitly addresses violence against women. But it is perhaps new for songwriters to be commissioned specifically for the task.

Bold production disguises some of the bad taste – but lines like “Like a bullet your love hit me to the core / I was flying ‘til you knocked me to the floor”, from No Love Allowed, are uncomfortably balanced between true love and awkward acrimony. And the mixture of emotions across Unapologetic just doesn’t sit right.

On What Now, Rihanna takes a look in the mirror and tells us that she doesn’t know how to cry. On Jump, she preaches that she won’t be chasing her ex; perhaps the Ginuwine sample and multipack of Chase & Status bass drops inhibit her conviction.

Throughout, the context and rancour can’t be shaken – but at least there’s clarity between Rihanna’s defiance on the club tracks and the heavy sadness in the ballads.

Maybe Unapologetic is proof that we should have more faith in young audiences’ reasoned understanding. Maybe it’s a hammering of the point that pop music shouldn’t shy away from real life’s sadness. But more realistically, Unapologetic seems to position Rihanna as a human being dragged headfirst into a breakdown, and somehow surviving it.

Stag Company Maximise first to release ‘The Prince Harry Package’


Since Prince Harry’s blow-out in Las Vegas made the headlines, popularity of America’s party capital has rocketed among holidaymakers looking to create their own hedonistic break. Stag weekend experts Maximise are making it easy for stag parties by releasing the The Prince Harry Package, the first stag do package holiday to emulate the prince’s Vegas experience, right down to staying in the very hotel suite where his naked escapades took place and VIP entry to the same pool parties and nightclubs.

Patrick Townsley, product manager from Maximise explains: “Las Vegas has long been a destination associated with A-listers, sports heroes and rock stars, but the prince’s visit has been by far the most influential event that we’ve seen in increasing interest in the destination. Harry’s antics have only served to raise the profile of the city among young guys who aspire to his fun-loving lifestyle. Following his visit stag parties in particular deem Las Vegas as the ultimate party hotspot.”

Hotel Suite

Hotel Suite

The new package will allow stags to follow in Prince Harry’s footsteps from the moment they touch down in Sin City, starting with a limousine taking them to the famous Encore at the Wynn hotel and ending the trip with VIP treatment at the XS nightclub. Prince Harry’s former three bedroom suite comes complete with phenomenal views, a fully stocked bar, billiards table and touch screen curtains.

Maximise has been careful to include all the important touches, including VIP entry, table service and, in the case of the Wet Republic Pool party where Harry was also snapped, bed service. The massive 53,000-square foot pool party at the MGM Grand Hotel has become one of the wildest dayclubs on the Las Vegas strip, attracting a host of celebrities.

This is only one of eight packages that Maximise offers to Las Vegas. For partygoers there is the Hard Rock Party weekend where you get the VIP treatment on a pub crawl down the strip as well as entry to the prestigious Sapphire gentleman’s club. For thrill seekers there is the zip line helicopter and VIP Combo, although if none of these tickle your fancy you can simply build your own bespoke package.

Prices for the three night ‘Prince Harry Package’ start at £1,899pp and other Vegas packages from as little as £144pp. For more details visit Maximise or call 0208 236 0111.

–Ends–

Maximise’s 15 years of experience in stag weekend organisation has enabled them to think of all the important details, from providing stag parties with a full itinerary to keep them on track, a map and directions to 24 hour weekend assistance. Maximise also has a personalised online booking platform enabling the stag’s chief organiser to send invites and payment to be paid in instalments by each group member.

For press enquiries please contact Kim Button by email on kimb@propellernet.co.uk or telephone on 01273 760983, Laura Johnson by email on laura@propellernet.co.uk or telephone on 01273 760963.