Sing we now of Christmas, Noel, sing we here!

I’m always amazed every year how unexpected seasonal albums suddenly pop up from seemingly nowhere as each turn of the calendar gets closer to December, but even as dismal and unsettling as 2020 has been, a short list of new Christmas albums somehow managed to appear and command my seasonal attention: Tori Amos’ Christmastide EP, It’s Christmas All Over from the Goo Goo Dolls, A Holly Dolly Christmas by Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood’s My Gift. [Click here to read my thoughts on each]

Kylie Minogue Exultantly Returns with a Glittering ‘DISCO’ Ball of Joy

Kylie Minogue delivers a much-needed shimmering light of hope on the Aussie Queen of Pop’s 15th studio album, DISCO. During the early part of 2020, Minogue learned to record and engineer her own vocals as the COVID-19 outbreak began. The majority of DISCO was created while using her own home studio amid the pandemic’s lockdown, which served as the primary source of inspiration for the album’s theme of escapism and isolation. Minogue co-wrote all 16 of the deluxe album’s tracks, with the bulk of production duties helmed by Sky Adams (Doja Cat, Zak Abel) and Teemu Brunila (The Crash, Trey Songz).

“We’re a million miles apart in a thousand ways” laments Minogue on album leadoff single “Say Something,” which presently sums up the current mood and feelings of thousands of people around the world, while establishing the tone. With DISCO, Kylie is attempting to lift spirits as a counterbalance to enduring the lost freedoms of normal life during what can only be described as a wasted year.  

Although DISCO leans more towards Madonna than Donna Summer, Minogue has crafted the perfect throwback soundtrack to dance away your pandemic blues, by sonically creating a virtual dance floor to cure your lockdown woes. With plenty of melodic nods to the 1970’s grooviest of grooves, DISCO more than lives up to the promise of its title. It literally sounds like a 1970s disco record made in 2020.

“Dancing together, ain’t nothing that could be better/Tomorrow don’t matter, gonna make the night last forever,” decrees Minogue on the feel-good album opener, “Magic.”

Upon its release, DISCO not only landed atop U.S. iTunes’ sales chart, but also debuted at number 2 on the Billboard Top Albums Sales chart, hit number one on the Official Albums Chart in the U.K. and debuted at number one in Australia, becoming Minogue’s 7th chart topping album on the ARIA Charts. It seems DISCO has been shown global love during one of the planet’s most difficult years.

With DISCO, Minogue deserves to be applauded for proudly choosing to keep her post-disco queen crown firmly intact, instead of losing her identity while fruitlessly chasing current trends and charts. DISCO is triumphant return to form, which we need now more than ever.

So, kudos to Kylie Minogue for making DISCO everything I’d hoped it would be and more. Simply put, I love it (pun intended)!

“Dance through the darkness, together eternally.”

Dissecting the Debut Album by Smart Objects

Purveyors of fine music, have you been yearning for an album that will not only quench your insatiable thirst for new music, but will also satisfy your ears, mind and soul? Then look no further than the genius debut by Nashville rock band, Smart Objects.

Now I know that many automatically conjure mental images of boots, hats, big hair and the Grand Ole Opry whenever Nashville is mentioned, but those of us in the know realize Music City is a haven for some of the world’s most talented songwriters and musicians of all genres. So, toss away those old notions and turn on and turn up Smart Objects, the magnificent debut from Nashville’s modernizers of rock.

Although I’ve been writing about music for nearly 20 years, words to describe this delightfully refreshing record escape me. So, I reached out to Smart Objects’ frontman and mastermind Benjamin Harper who was gracious enough to explain the magic behind this remarkable debut.

[Read my Q&A with lead singer Benjamin Harper here]

Smart Objects, the dynamic debut is available everywhere now.

Gift the debut album to a friend at Bandcamp or download and stream at iTunes, Apple Music or Amazon

‘The Meaning of Mariah Carey’

© 2020 Andy Cohen Books

When you hear the name Mariah Carey, what comes to mind? Does her name conjure images of inescapable Top 40 pop hits of the 1990s, or massive big ballads heard on adult contemporary playlists? Or maybe hearing her name makes you think of R&B-flavored hip hop bangers. Whatever image or memory stirs from hearing the mention of her name, do they make you think you know Mariah Carey? Turns out we really knew next to nothing about the legendary icon who has been seared into our pop culture consciousness for more than three decades, as revealed in her newly published memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey.

My journey with Mariah Carey’s music began in 1990, while working in a record store. One day, while making a display featuring new and yet-unknown artists, I came across hew just released debut album, which at that time, “Vision of Love” had just begun to get some moderate radio airplay. While looking at the display, I recognized one of the song titles which caused me to play Mariah Carey over the store’s sound system. I was immediately enraptured with the sounds coming from the speakers and couldn’t fully comprehend the brilliance contained with the debut album’s 11 tracks. Not only was I amazed, but from that moment on, I’ve been a devout and loyal participant on team Mariah; buying all of her records, viewing her videos and attending her concerts, for the better part of my life.

Now, 30 years into my fandom, I’ve been shaken to my core upon reading Mariah’s unfiltered telling of her mishaps and struggles. The book’s pages are filled with heartbreaking memories of her enduring a violent and damaging childhood, a cruel and manipulative family and surviving a turbulent marriage to a controlling and demeaning power-hungry oppressor.

Here, for the first time, Mariah Carey is setting the record straight and telling her truths about her music and personal life in her own soul-bearing words. She not only reveals where many of her songs come from, but also sheds a bright light on what really happened during the era known as ‘the Glitter debacle.’ Even at that time, I knew better than to believe she’d had a mental breakdown, but also felt as if that period was a giant red flag that something major was happening behind the scenes. I’m also still reeling from finding out the true inspiration and meaning of “Vision of Love.” For decades I always thought it was just a mere love song.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey is not only a captivating and intimate look inside the private world of one of music’s most successful and enduring artists, but it’s also a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. I must confess I read it in its entirety in just two days. I literally could not put it down. Even if you’re not a Mariah Carey fan, you will find this book fascinating. But, if you are a fan, you’ll absolutely love it.

Rediscover the Brilliance of ABBA with ABBA: The Studio Albums

© PopMartZoo

The newly released ABBA: The Studio Albums is an 8-LP box set containing all eight of ABBA’s proper albums. This superlative collection includes each of the Swedish pop supergroup’s full-length releases on colored vinyl for the first time. This 8-LP color assortment is the perfect way to revisit one of pop music’s most iconic bodies of work, as well as hearing the progression and growth within each album throughout ABBA’s historic career.

My one and only grievance is the baffling decision not to include a bonus disc with the essential non-album tracks “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),” “Cassandra,” “Should I Laugh or Cry,” “Under Attack” and “Voulez-Vous (Extended Remix).” However, that’s a minor complaint in a box rife with such iconic musical treasures. Besides, the title succinctly sums up the focal point here, leaving no room for any ambiguous expectations. [Read Full Review]

Live Aid: The Day Heard Around the World

© 2020 PopMartZoo

On July 13, 1985, the world witnessed the first global musical event of its kind. The planet’s biggest and brightest musical artists banded together in unison for a day of camaraderie and caring with the purpose of ending famine in Ethiopia, and what a day it was. This year marks the 35th anniversary of Live Aid.

The event was the brainchild of Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (Ultravox) who created a global jukebox of artists including: David Bowie, Alison Moyet, Paul Young, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Sting, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Bryan Adams and many more.

Live Aid went down in history for many reasons, including the unfortunate Led Zeppelin reunion debacle, and Duran Duran’s final performance (until 2003) by the five original band members, which unfortunately included an unintentional off-key falsetto note by Simon Le Bon. The incident was notoriously referred to as “The bum note heard round the world.” Those fiascos aside, the day’s three most deliberated moments were performances by Madonna, Queen, and U2. [Read Full Feature]

Lady Gaga Delivers a Provisional Reprieve with ‘Chromatica’

On her sixth studio album, Lady Gaga delivers a joyous, albeit temporary reprieve from the existing and mercurial realities of a world in crisis, which is profoundly needed right now. Chromatica is a non-stop, full-on dance party replete with 13 club bangers and 3 filmic-sounding instrumental interludes, all of which will transport you to another realm of EDM consciousness. If you’ve been waiting for Gaga to return to the dance floor, then Chromatica will sufficiently fulfill all of your danceable desires as its magical dream-like capriccios will profusely distract you from life’s painful realities. After all, Chromatica is a state of mind, not a physical place. [Read Full Review]

May the Fourth Be with You

While yet another Star Wars Day is upon us, this year is vastly different from years past, as we attempt to find new ways to celebrate during a social distancing pandemic. Also, the later part of 2019 brought The Rise of Skywalker, the conclusion to the 42-year spanning, nine-part Skywalker saga. Both of these events have prompted me to revisit and reanalyze the entire multi-episodic adventure.

Now that the Skywalker saga has been completed, I’ve been digesting and reflecting upon the galactic journey as a whole. Although we now take for granted films depicting other worldly space adventures, nothing can replace the excitement, joy and nostalgia I still feel for Star Wars. For those who know me, I’ve previously shared in depth my unwaning love for my favorite space opera of all time in a piece I’d written a couple of years ago titled, For the Love of Star Wars. For those who don’t and who are interested in such things, my previous piece can be found by clicking the feature’s aforementioned title link.

I find it disheartening whenever I see the negativity and incessant whining surrounding Star Wars of late, but then I remind myself that those proclaiming to be “so-called fans” are really not the true fans at all, but merely self-absorbed crybabies who have lost touch with the inner childlike wonderment of their long lost imaginations. As the elite number of the truly devoted know, Star Wars isn’t bound to merely one film, trilogy or era, it’s an intangible entity belonging to those of us who still truly embrace the wonderment found within its timeless fantastical spirit and lasting inspiration.

I for one, am extremely grateful for being amongst the generation lucky enough to have been precisely the ideal age to fully appreciate the original trilogy, as well as all that have followed. I find great comfort in knowing the Star Wars galaxy is and will remain easily within my grasp whenever I want to revisit a galaxy far, far away. May the fourth be with you.

“We are the spark, that will light the fire…”

Donna Summer Fans Rejoice!

At long last, a complete career-spanning compilation of Donna Summer’s musical legacy has arrived. Donna Summer: Encore is an exquisite and long overdue celebration of the ‘First Lady of Love,’ comprised of 33 CDs, encompassing all of Summer’s albums, from her 1974 debut Lady of The Night, through her final proper offering, 2008’s Crayons.

All 17 albums are here, plus an impressive inclusion of 109 additional bonus tracks. The sound quality of Encore is beyond superb and easily surpasses all previously released versions of the included 329 tracks.

The box set also includes a high quality 40-page 12” by 12” hardcover book containing a moving foreword by Giorgio Moroder, as well as, heartfelt tributes from: George Benson, Kim Carnes, Boy George, Bootsy Collins, Gloria Gaynor, Nile Rodgers and more. Encore is not only the best representation of Donna Summer’s legendary musical output, but it’s also an unquestionably indispensable piece for any ardent fan’s Donna Summer collection. [Read FULL review here]


Erasure: Chorus (Remastered 3CD Deluxe Edition)

Next year marks the 30th anniversary of Erasure’s fifth studio album, Chorus, but the good news is you don’t have wait until then to start celebrating and revisiting its magnificence as it has just been released in an exquisite newly remastered and expanded version. Vince Clarke and Andy Bell’s 1991 work of genius features hit singles: “Love to Hate You,” “Breath of Life,” “Am I Right?” and the sparkling title track.

This deluxe edition 3CD edition includes the original album, as well as a second disc of remixes, demo versions, U.S. mixes and six phenomenal B-Sides. A third disc contains live versions of the complete album from Erasure’s renowned Phantasmagorical Entertainment shows recorded in 1992 at the Apollo in Manchester, England.

Erasure’s Chorus was a #1 album in the UK upon its original release in 1991 and it has now been digitally remastered and sounds shiny and new all over again. Upon reflection, I find myself enjoying this album more than I did initially. The high-caliber B-Sides really complete the picture of the original album and hold up as well as anything included on the proper track list, especially the bouncy “Over the Rainbow,” the danceable “Waiting for Sex” and the downhearted but optimistic “Let It Flow.”

Produced by Martyn Phillips (Swing Out Sister, Lisa Stansfield) and mixed by Dave Bascombe (Tears For Fears, Depeche Mode), Chorus is an essential entry in Erasure’s sizable catalog and now this must-have deluxe edition makes it more vital than ever.

“Go ahead with your dreamin’ for what it’s worth/Or you’ll be stricken bound kickin’ up dirt…”