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Popular Music - Part 46 - October, 2003

Graham Vine


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The Fame Academy Album, Fame Academy Students, Mercury 0636132

 

  0 5
Performance
Sonics *

For those who missed the goings-on during the recently-completed semester at the Fame Academy, here's the background. The Fame Academy was set up in a luxurious mansion house on the outskirts of London. From tens of thousands of applicants, twelve were selected to be groomed for stardom. The prize for the eventual winner: a million-pound record contract and, surely, lasting success in the world of pop.

The twelve were whittled down to one on the basis of public votes on weekly televised performances. So it was a little like the Pop-Star / Pop-Idol series. Between the weekly performances, the students were isolated in the mansion, receiving their tuition and watched throughout by spy-cameras. The output of these cameras could be watched as interactive TV, and edited highlights were shown on BBC-1 and BBC Choice. So it was a little like a reality-TV fly-on-the-wall series.

Combining these two approaches was a masterstroke, but the magical extra element, the thing that ensures lasting success for many (not just one) of these future stars, was the intensive tutoring regime whilst in the Academy. This included fitness/dance/performance training, voice training, songwriting and various masterclasses. The results are extremely well represented on the Fame Academy Album.

Most of the songs are remakes of well-established pop classics. These were the core of the televised competition performances. Tracks 2, 4, and 14 though were written during the series; track two has the students helped out by enthusiastic masterclasser Lionel Richie. The TV shows featured many more songs written by the students so I have no reservation in hailing the skills of these new stars, most of whom play their own instruments as well as singing and songwriting. Many of the backing vocals on the Fame Academy Album are performed by others of the twelve students in the academy ('working as a team'), taking harmonizing well in their stride. In fact, the only 'bum-note' I spotted on the album is during "Brown Eyed Girl". Knowing the speed with which the album was readied for release, what you hear is what they sang, but Chris' long flat note should really have been mended in the studio.

There are many highlights on the album. "Back To You" is an original song that feels like you've always known it; "Lullaby" is hook-laden, its input from Lemar being molded into the finished article by Ainsley. Ainsley's own song (supported by fellows Sinead and Malachi) "Keep Me A Secret" is probably the strongest song I heard during the whole TV series. The only two lowlights are Camilla's song - she fails to pull-off her attempt at sounding 'soulful' - and the version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" where the harmonies chosen don't really suit the song.

To end on a couple of highlights, I love the growl in Katie's voice, a voice which seems to span octaves with ease. And the version of "Make Me Smile" is second only to Steve Harley's: Marli strikes a sultry pose and Ainslie rocks as the willing victim! It's a success-story that about half of the students, so far, have met with success outside of the Academy. Full marks to the BBC for doing this and showing that there can be genuine talent in the context of a TV show.

The names of the Fame Academy Students are: David Sneddon, Sinead Quinn, Lemar Obika, Ainslie Henderson, Malachi Cush, Katie Lewis, Nigel Wilson, Marli Buck, Pippa Fulton, Camilla Beeput, Chris Manning and Ashley House.

Track Listing:

1. Ainslie & David - With A Little Help From My Friends
2. Lemar - Back To You
3. Sinead - Don't Speak
4. Ainslie, Lemar & David - Lullaby
5. Malachi & Marli - Fields Of Gold
6. Lemar & Sinead - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
7. David - Goodnight Girl
8. Katie - Perfect
9. Ainslie & Marli - Make Me Smile (Come Up & See Me)
10. Camilla - Genie In A Bottle
11. Chris - Brown Eyed Girl
12. Marli - The Tracks Of My Tears
13. Nigel - I Heard It Through The Grapevine
14. Ainslie - Keep Me A Secret
15. Ashley - I Can See Clearly Now
16. Pippa - Eternal Flame
17. Malachi - Vincent
18. Fame Academy Students - Lean On Me

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Your Love Means Everything, Faultline,  Blanco y Negro 0927460752

 

0

5

Performance

Sonics

*

Faultline's second album, "Your Love Means Everything", is the sound of artist development. Known for the starkly beautiful electronica of his critically acclaimed debut album, 1999's "Closer Closer", Faultline (the nom de disque of David Kosten) has now collaborated with an outstanding line-up of artists - REM's Michael Stipe, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips and Nick McCabe, formerly of The Verve.

Half vocal and half instrumental, it moves from the ominous, churning "Sweet Iris" to the beauty of newcomer Jacob Golden's vocal on Bitter Kiss; from the bells and half-heard voices of "I Only Know Myself" to Chris Martin's dark lullaby on the final track (a reprise of the first and title track). While it is the appearance of Michael Stipe that will be grabbing the headlines, it is the appearance of these two that make for stand-out tracks - the Martin tracks are best described as heart-rending, whilst Golden's vocals simply soar to unimagined heights.

It's not surprising, then, that Kosten spends almost all his time in the studio, either on his own, experimenting with sounds and waiting for the magic moment, or creating an environment in which other people can be creative.

Mis-described in some places as 'dance music', this has a far wider appeal. The closest (if somewhat clumsy) comparison that can be made is to late vintage Radiohead, perhaps with mild overtones of Moby. The unassuming Kosten, who makes uncompromising music, has managed to enchant some of the world's biggest and most talented artists into sharing his vision, coaxing career-best performances out of them in the process.

Track Listing:

1. Your Love Means Everything
2. Where is my boy?
3. Sweet Iris
4. Bitter Kiss
5. Missing
6. The Colossal Gray Sunshine
7. Clocks
8. Theme for Half Speed
9. Greenfields
10. Lost Broadcast
11. I only know myself
12. Your Love Means Everything Part 2

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While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Various Artists, Universal 583444-2

 

0

5

Performance

Sonics

*

When a collection of some of the best names in Album-Oriented Rock is put together, many of us sit up and take notice. With its title reference to the great George Harrison's "White Album" track, this album has some living-up-to to do - and it does! In fact, George seems to be one of the few guitar-greats missing from the album, but his song is here, courtesy of the Jeff Healey Band. A surprise for me was how few of the tracks were already in my collection. A strength of this album is that the compilers have chosen 'the other' great track by the top acts and not just gone with the obvious choice. Take for example the Free track. "All Right Now" (one of my all-time favouites) has been eschewed in favor of the rather less obvious, but equally brilliant "Little Bit Of Love".

On CD-2, Skynyrd's  "Sweet Home Alabama" is there instead of "Free Bird". Toto's "Hold The Line" beats their "Africa" to this track-listing, though not in the chart-listings. But these are not second-division tracks, just equally
good though less played songs. Clever.

Some of the songs are new to me, and that is very welcome. I like the Peter Green song, and I am pleased that he has made a re-appearance in recent years having been in the doldrums after quitting Fleetwood Mac. His old sparring partners are here with "Black Magic Woman" - their first hit and a song from their Blues days. B. B. King is sometimes missed in consideration of the axe-man's art but having caught his Albert Hall appearance a couple of years ago I can vouch for his virtuosity and sensitivity, though again, the song is new to me.

The sleeve-notes are rather sparse on the album - I could not tell whether the named Neil Smith was responsible for track-selection, or if the tracks were put forward by the comprehensively-listed record companies. Either way, it's a very good album and, with 2 CDs to play, there's little chance of boredom setting in even after many plays-through on rotation. And with favorites like "Keep On Loving You" popping up, it's a great album to listen to while driving.

Track Listing:

CD1

1. Eric Clapton - After Midnight
2. Dire Straits - Love Over Gold
3. Santana - Samba Pa Ti
4. Stealers Wheel - Stuck In The Middle With You
5. Reo Speedwagon - Keep On Loving You
6. Peter Frampton - Show Me The Way (live)
7. Free - Little Bit Of Love
8. The Robert Cray Band - Right Next Door (Because Of Me)
9. B. B. King - The Thrill Is Gone
10. Roy Buchanan - Sweet Dreams
11. Peter Green - Cryin' Won't Bring You Back
12. Big Country - Chance
13. Texas - I Don't Want A Lover
14. Nils Lofgren - Shine Silently
15. Snowy White - Bird Of Paradise
16. The Taste - What's Going On
17. Cream - Badge
18. Jeff Healey Band - While My Guitar Gently Weeps

CD2

1. Robert Plant - Big Log
2. Prince - Purple Rain
3. Chris Rea - The Road To Hell (part 2)
4. Gary Moore - Parisienne Walkways
5. The Allman Brothers Band - Jessica
6. Mathews' Southern Comfort - Woodstock
7. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama
8. Joe Walsh - Turn To Stone
9. Fleetwood Mac - Black Magic Woman
10. Toto - Hold The Line
11. Boston - More Than A Feeling
12. Steve Earle - Guitar Town
13. Robert Palmer - Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor Doctor)
14. Wishbone Ash - Jail Bait
15. J. J. Cale - Cocaine
16. Justin Hayward & John Lodge - Blue Guitar
17. Mark Knopfler - Going Home, Theme Of The Local Hero
18. Thin Lizzy - Whisky In The Jar

- Graham Vine -

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Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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