I Dreamed A Dream - Susan Boyle
I Dreamed A Dream - Susan Boyle
Forget Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, and Shayne Ward (oh, you already have), this is by any measure the biggest release from a British TV talent show contestant - and she didn't even win Britain's Got Talent! The SuBo story is the stuff of dreams, which, presumably, is why it resonates well beyond these shores.
Get this, folks: I Dreamed A Dream is officially the largest global CD pre-order in the 14-year history of Amazon, making the 48-year-old spinster from West Lothian the biggest phenomenon to have emerged from these reality-obsessed times anywhere in the world.
So that's the context but what is the album like? Pretty damn good actually. And you know why? Because these songs of heartbreak and loss, spirituality and redemption, are sung by someone who has actually experienced those things rather than some dolled-up young wannabe. The album's one original composition, Who I Was Born To Be, is essentially Boyle's story set to music and will have the hardest of cynics reaching for the tissues, while songs like Proud and You'll See echo the same themes.
It's not one-dimensional though. Amid the predictable but beautifully sung hymns and carols (Silent Night by SuBo for Christmas number one? You wouldn't bet against it), there are a couple of inspired curveballs. The best of these, a cover of Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones, is an object lesson in how to interpret a song and make it your own. Susan Boyle hasn't just proved that Britain's got talent, she's proved that talent isn't necessarily young and beautiful, which is surely the greater achievement. 8/10
Rated R - Rihanna
Rihanna, of course, is everything Susan Boyle is not. She does, however, have at least one first-hand experience of personal trauma the whole world knows about. To say Rated R is chock-full of references to her beating at the hands of former boyfriend Chris Brown would be an understatement.
Obviously it's entirely up to Rihanna what she writes about but the sheer volume of allusions to violence (often bound up with sexual desire) on this album borders on poor taste and leads inevitably to the suspicion that she hasn't just drawn inspiration from her experience with Brown but is actively profiteering from it. Either way, it's all a long way from Umbrella.
Such ethical questions aside, Rated R is a dark, menacing record whose highlights (Russian Roulette, Hard, Rude Boy) are brilliant slabs of inventive, sinister pop music. There are a few too many lowlights for this to be a great album though. Stupid Love is a particularly woeful ballad (and yet another none-too-subtle reference to her relationship with Brown) and Te Amo is, well, just pointless really. If any good can be said to have come from the events of last February, it's that Rihanna has found her writing voice. The next album should be more interesting. 6/10
The Fame Monster - Lady GaGa
The 'enhanced' album is a relatively new way of fleecing music fans by making them buy something they already own with a couple of minor additions. To Lady GaGa's credit, The Fame Monster is substantially more than that, containing as it does her debut album, The Fame, plus eight completely new tracks.
The fact that they're almost all killers is doubly impressive considering they were written and recorded in a year when she was busy becoming the hottest new pop star in the world.
At least three of these new songs could (and probably will) become massive global hits. Telephone is a superstar duet with Beyonce and sounds like the best Saturday night of your life set to music, So Happy I Could Die the best ode to lesbian-inspired self-pleasuring ever recorded, and current single Bad Romance is quite simply the best thing she's ever done. I say ever done; it almost beggars belief that she was unknown this time last year. On the evidence of this, she'll be around for a very long time to come. 9/10
The Parody Album - Chris Moyles
Chris Moyles is a Marmite sort of person. Loved and loathed in equal measure, your enjoyment of this collection of popular song parodies first heard on his Radio One breakfast show (plus a couple of new ones) will depend entirely on how you feel about Moyles and his particular brand of humour. Featuring silly takes of tracks by JLS (Beat Again reworked as an anti-vegetarian ditty called Meat Again), Kaiser Chiefs (I Predict A Diet), Britney Spears (Lorry Driver to the tune of Womanizer) and more, it's basically Weird Al Yankovic for the 21st century but not quite as clever or funny. 3/10
Will the X Factor 2013 winner's single be the Christmas number one?
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- Yes - it's inevitable
- 73 %No - it wll be someone else