Dig These Discs : Lady Gaga, James Blunt, Celine Dion, Erasure, Matthew Morrison
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! DTD brings you new holiday hits from "Glee"’s Matthew Morrison, and from Erasure. Rain down some "Applause" for Lady Gaga’s new release, and check out Celine Dion, taking some risks with her new pop format. James Blunt croons his feelings to the universe with "Moon Landing."
"A Classic Christmas" (Matthew Morrison)
With nominations for the Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe, almost EGOT-worthy "Glee" star Matthew Morrison raises his voice on his second album of the year, his first-ever holiday album, "A Classic Christmas." This six-song EP shows Mr. Schue tackling all of our cherished Christmas classics. His high-flying cover of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" is infectiously giddy, and his sultry cover of "This Christmas" makes you wish you were decorating the tree with this handsome triple threat. Morrison adds a somber patina to "O Holy Night," but turns the charm back on in "Jingle Bell Rock," a dancing, prancing triumph with sharp horns. His classy version of "Let It Snow" features tinkling ivories and flirty undertones that let you envision snuggling up in front of the fire with your honey. He finishes the album with a vision of Christmas in the tropics with "I’ll Be Home for Christmas Mele Kalikimaka," a Hawaiian version of this holiday classic that will warm your cockles, no matter where you celebrate. Legendary producer Phil Ramone produced both this album and Morrison’s collection of Broadway standards, "Where It All Began," released earlier this year. To promote the album, Morrison will hit the boards of the Kennedy Center with performances on Nov. 29-30. And on Nov. 30, PBS will air a live concert recorded of Morrison serenading the audience with Christmas songs and standards at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, CT.
"Snow Globe" (Erasure)
Andy Bell and Vince Clarke team up for an innovative album of 13 holiday tunes with their new "Snow Globe." The two artists, who have written together for 28 years, present a mixed bag of classic standards and new songs. For Bell and Clarke, the decision to make a holiday album was a dicey one, fraught with second guesses, with Clarke saying, "We’d swapped around emails before deciding to make this type of record and I was a bit nervous about it, in all honesty." But they hit his Brooklyn studio and created the "falling ice" technique and droning effects that he wanted while Bell sang like a choirboy. Clarke said that it was a good way to pay homage to the death of Bell’s partner of 25 years, Paul, who died last April. Clarke said that he wrote the first track, "Bells of Love" after being pressed by his 9-year-old niece over whether he like John Lennon or not. "Not really," said Clarke, but he put his feelings aside to write a song that "had some of his call to optimism in it." The lyrics include the upbeat chorus, "what we want, what we need is a touching a healing hand with a little emotion." Unusual covers include the traditional Latin song "Gaudete," made famous by Steeleye Span in the early ’70s, and sung phonetically by Bell. "I just love the song," said Bell. "I’m quite fond of Pagan British rituals, I even like Morris Dancing. It’s so absurd." The pageantry paired with the electro drumbeat makes it sound like classic Erasure, or like the Gothic opening of Madonna’s MDNA tour. They also included the scary and childlike original song, "Make it Wonderful," with Bell singing, "lay your words upon me kindly just to remind me when blinded by the lights/ whisper something gently to me, the words of love you know I’m blinded by the light." "Sleep Quietly" is a lullaby to Jesus that sounds straight out of "The Nightmare Before Christmas," with echoing keyboards adding an eerie feel. A similar sound arises in "Blood on the Snow," Clarke’s sinister winter missive. "Silent Night" is a spare arrangement with a whisper echo, and "Bleak Midwinter" drones pleasantly, capturing the season’s spirit. "The Christmas Song" is paired with chunky techno beats for a robotic effect that is unexpectedly pleasing, and merges into a faster mesh later in the tune. Dance-club vibes emerge in "Loving Man" and "There’ll Be No Tomorrow." The album closes with a faithful rendition of the urban Christmas classic, "Silver Bells."
"Artpop" (Lady Gaga)
Maladroits and bitchy queens, step back! After much criticism of La Gaga’s long convalescence, the new queen of pop is back with her third studio album, which is at least as good as her last, "The Fame," which sold 15 million copies worldwide. Mama Monster’s new release, "Artpop" is a collection of 15 tracks that range from catchy to kooky, with plenty in the mix to cement her reputation as a global pop phenomenon, named "the second most influential person of the decade" by Time Magazine. She kicks things off with the daring track "Aura," which is initially reminiscent of an old Jefferson Airplane cut, but changes halfway through, with a chorus about seeing the "girl who lives behind the aura." In "Venus," Rocket Number Nine heads off to Venus, where the Goddess Aphrodite wears a seashell bikini. Silly lyrics aside, the song has a catchy hook in "I wonder if this could be love?" Aphrodite’s son gets his due in the techno-heavy track "G.U.Y." Enjoy fun with acronyms. Gaga gets naughty in "Sexxx Dreams, singing, "I lay in bed I touch myself and think of you." "Jewels N’ Drugs" gets a harder edge thanks to rappers T.I., Too $hort and Twista, with Gaga singing, "Don’t want your jewels don’t want your drugs, don’t want your money, want your love." R. Kelly chimes in on the slower track "Do What U Want," which reads like an R&B jam made for ’da club.’ The clap tracks on "MANiCURE" make this odd track a possible hit single, a la "Telephone." Ditto for the title track, "Artpop," a keyboard-heavy tune about how Gaga’s "art pop could mean anything." The motorcycle dubstep effects are the best part of "Swine," with disgusting lyrics like, "you’re just a pig inside a human body." "What do you want to wear this season," she sings in "Donatella," whose funny lyrics include, "just ask your gay friends advice before you get a spray tan on holiday." Her track "Fashion!" gives David Bowie’s cut a run for his money, as Gaga sings, "Step into the room as if it’s a catwalk." "Mary Jane Holland" isn’t much, but "Dope" is a mellifluous piano ballad about a love stronger than addiction. She sings of seeing the world in "Gypsy." Gaga saves the best for last: her single of "Applause," as she sings the impossibly catchy refrain, "I live for the applause... The way that you cheer and scream for me/ give me the thing that I love, put your hands up, make ’em touch." She also drives home the entire "Artpop" album and her status in pop culture with her verse, "One second I’m a Koons, then suddenly the Koons is me/pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture in me." This pro-gay, pro-weird philanthropist has been an outspoken supporter of gay rights, HIV awareness, youth empowerment and global activist. In 2011, she launched her Born this Way Foundation for youth, her LittleMonsters.com social network, and the new HAUS OF GAGA tech app, TechHAUS. Great music, great costumes and great charity work: now that’s a real Lady.
"Loved Me Back to Life" (Celine Dion)
With more than a dozen albums in multiple languages tipping 220 million in sales across the world, Celine Dion is an undisputed superstar who flies under the radar of much of the outré shenanigans in which American divas engage. This five-time Grammy Award winner could easily rest on her Canadian laurels, especially with the success of her five consecutive years at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. So that she even attempts to break away and take some risks with her new album, "Loved Me Back to Life" is a surprise. The title track has all the requisite drama of a Dion cut, but in addition to the flourishes of the orchestra is an overlaying R&B backbeat that brings the entire affair into the 21st century. "I don’t want another piece of your mind, so take it somewhere else for the night," sasses Dion in the regrets-only song "Somebody Loves Somebody," another fast-moving pop tune. The vibe of "Water and a Flame" is reminiscent of an old Mary J. Blige track, as is the overwrought "Breakaway." Whether you think it was love-at-first-sight charming or Lolita-creepy that Dion met her future husband and manager Renè Angèlil when she was only 12 years old and he was 38, her career has gone pretty well for it, and she seems to give him props for that in songs like "Thank You" and "Thankful." Dion gets granola crunchy with songs like "Didn’t Know Love," about finding her soul mate on the subway, and her superb cover of Janis Ian’s "At Seventeen." "We’ll always be connected baby, like a button to a sleeve," she sings in the whimsical "Always Be Your Girl." Her "Save Your Soul" is a funky number, and duets with Ne-Yo in "Incredible" and Stevie Wonder in his classic "Overjoyed" add a lot to the album. This album shows off a new side of this old Quebecois diva that we haven’t seen before, and be it the sheen or the substance, she sure looks good.
"Moon Landing" (James Blunt)
English singer/songwriter James Blunt just dropped his fourth studio album, "Moon Landing," his first new album since 2010’s "Some kind of Trouble." Although Blunt has tried to take a more genuine and edgy approach to these songs than those in his treacly past, these eleven tracks have been tepidly received by music critics unfazed by earnest British folk singers. Thankfully, he has mostly stepped away from ballads like his 2004 hit, "You’re Beautiful," but a few more paces wouldn’t hurt his reputation any. His single "Bonfire Heart," written with Ryan Tedder, is a rustic affair that is very much from the Mumford stylebook. It peaked at No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart. "It’s a simple message that anyone can relate to," Blunt told Billboard Magazine. "That notion of connection. So the lyrics are really simple: People like us, we don’t need that much. Just someone to light the spark in our bonfire heart." With its snappy chorus, it could experience some radio play. There is some excellent piano playing at work in "Face the Sun," and the ukulele in "Postcards" is an unexpected treat. His tune "Miss America" is reportedly a tribute to the late Whitney Houston, as seen in an acoustic video Blunt uploaded to YouTube. Blunt includes two versions of this song, with lyrics like, "Did someone give you something to help you ease the pain, like the liquor in the bottle, we watched you slip away." The song is middling, but somehow pulls the listener in. He does better with the pop-tinged "Satellites." "Blue on Blue" is reminiscent of early Beatles tunes, and the peppy "Heart to Heart" brings to mind the simple songs of the ’50s. But many of his tracks, like "The Only One," seem to revolve around lost lovers, painting him as a serial loser in the game of love. He takes a chance with the tune titled "Always Hate Me?", about seeing a former love with another man, and regretting all the things he didn’t say. For such a polarizing folkie, this critical bearbaiting is hardly necessary. Although this latest release is less schmaltzy and sentimental than his earlier albums, Blunt is still the victim of his own whiny voice. While some folks enjoy this sort of inoffensive, rambling folk music, many others will find that this is one Blunt they’re willing to pass on.