Music Reviews

Popular Music - Part 31

March, 2000

by Graham Vine





"Baby One More Time"

Britney Spears

Jive; 41651

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One of the fastest-growing careers in pop at the moment is teenager Britney Spears. Not in the same league at Shelby Starner, though similar in age, I suspect her aspirations are also totally different. We are not considering 'deep and meaningful' when discussing "Baby One More Time" (the album) and volume of sales is as good a measure as any.

The description 'fluff' has been used in a sort of non-PC way to describe the pop genre which has Britney at its heart. This seems to me to be unnecessarily harsh for a young woman who has worked hard at getting where she is. Britney has a pleasant voice and none of the songs stretch her vocal range unduly. Neither is there a huge amount of emotion or feeling in these tracks. The balads amongst this collection, "From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart" and "E-mail My Heart" are actually just slow songs rather than a vehicle for some expression. In some ways we should be grateful for the fact because it saves us from yet another 'wailing diva' to contend with. But the strange stress on the word 'E-mail' does illustrate a rather forced marriage of lyric to melody as if the album needed a balad, and trendy techno just must be good.

On the positive side, the sound quality is crystal clear. Full marks to the production team for this. It suggests a manufactured product, using whichever singer was available, though that may be reading too much into the A&R/production process.

All the songs are light and easy to listen to. Nothing to annoy, nothing to get too excited about. Plenty of clear beat to get in the mood for dancing to. After about 3 continuous playings through of the album I had had enough and needed a break as I was getting a little bored. Question: had I fallen into the trap of listening out for 'deep and meaningful'?

For reference, full track-listing:

1. Baby One More Time

2. (You Drive Me) Crazy

3. Sometimes

4. Soda Pop

5. Born To Make You Happy

6. From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart

7. I Will Be There

8. I Will Still Love You

9. Thinkin' About You

10. E-mail My Heart

11. The Beat Goes On

- GV -

"Ghetto Hymns"

Dave Hollister

Dreamworks; DRM3P-5167

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Having mentioned to a friend how much I liked the music of Connor Reeves, he straight away suggested I try some Dave Hollister. Some of this may have been to 'educate' me (which I welcome) but I will freely admit that I can see the similarities. At its best, "Ghetto Hymns" has some of that quality I was promised and the education comes in stretching me in a direction which is rather more extreme than I am used to. The music is rather soulful. There is some rap but it is there to communicate. It is cheeky and suggestive but it made me smile. The swearing on track 5 is no more than would be included in many a conversation carrying the annoyance being expressed. The sense of frustration hangs there - it's a mood thing.

"Can't Stay" is the highlight of the album. Surely the level of vocal accomplishment that today's 'boy bands' must aim at. Here its zenith, fully developed. All the harmonies are there, the strings showing the sensitivity in the message coming straight from the heart. "Ghetto Hymns" is subtitled "A Story of Ghetto Love & Life", which softens the subtext of that stark title, and rightly so. Concentrate on the word 'love' and you can tell that this is not an album of harsh, attacking, soul 'n' rap, it is much more mainstream and deserves to be placed before a wider audience than many ghetto-centric offerings. Thanks, pal.

For reference, complete track listing:

1. Ghetto Hymns (The Introduction)

2. Came To The Door Pimpin'

3. My Favorite Girl

4. Round & Round

5. Baby Mama Drama

6. Cheaterlude (Interlude)

7. Can't Stay

8. Bring It To Dave (Interlude)

9. Call On Me

10. Missin' You

11. Keep Forgettin'

12. Come Inside My Room (Interlude)

13. The Program

14. My Feelin's

15. Respect To Him

- GV -

"Sultans of Swing"

Dire Straits

Vertigo; 538-003-2

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Once in a while a band emerges 'fully-formed' but more commonly there is a steady development over a number of releases. Queen were clearly amongst the first camp - Dire Straits were another. From their first hit "Sultans Of Swing" it was apparent that we were witness to a formidable guitar-playing and songwriting talent that is Mark Knopfler. Reason enough to label this 'best of' selection in the way chosen. Most of the hits are here, "Skateaway" and "The Bug" being the exceptions and they are taken, by and large, in chronological order. Rather unimaginative as a compilation strategy but the flow works well enough. The live tracks included: 7, 15 and 16, have a fresh sound and demonstrate the band's capabilities are not limited to studio sessions.

Mark's songwriting has depth and sensitivity in all departments, as well as giving plenty of opportunities for displaying that legendary guitar virtuosity. I guess it shows the impact of the lyrics that I had to write these lines in silence after listening to the album. His words just got in the way of mine, such as that recurring phrase about crying after love in the song "Romeo And Juliet" and 'the dice was loaded from the start'. Words and music which require more attention than simply playing in the background.

The 'Straits' were already enormous when the album "Brothers In Arms" appeared and so it is well represented on the current disc. It may be apocryphal, but it has been reported that at one time there were more CDs of "Brothers In Arms" sold than CD players existed in the world. Not a bad reputation to have in the mid 1980s when this 'new' medium was just getting established. Many fans will have most of the tracks on this album but it is still an involving experience to take the hits as they happened. If you don't have these tracks - well, you can guess my advice can't you?

For reference, complete track listing:

1. Sultans Of Swing

2. Lady Writer

3. Romeo And Juliet

4. Tunnel Of Love

5. Private Investigations

6. Twisting By The Pool

7. Love Over Gold (live)

8. So Far Away

9. Money For Nothing

10. Brothers In Arms

11. Walk Of Life

12. Calling Elvis

13. Heavy Fuel

14. On Every Street

15. Your Latest Trick (live)

16. Local Hero / Wild Theme (live)

 - GV -





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