Just when it seemed safe to write off Britney Spears as a punch line only capable of entertaining people through tabloid escapades, she goes and gets all musically relevant on us.
Blackout, her first studio album in four years, is not only a very good album, it is her best work ever － a triumph, with not a bad song to be found on the 12 tracks.
Granted, a Spears rave should be put in its proper context － it is not like we're talking Bob Dylan here. Spears is a lightweight singer who only flourishes when she has great songs and great producers to supplement her minimal vocal talent.
But when she has that help, she is fierce. And she gets that boost on every single track on Blackout, a sizzling, well-crafted, electro-pop dance fest that should return her to pop's elite.
Spears emerges on Blackout as the antithesis of her tabloid persona － confident, sensual, and in control.
"I got my eye on you," she coos on one of the album's best tracks, Radar, a sexy techno groove that you can't help but bounce to. It's all about generating heat on the dance floor.
On the aptly titled Freakshow, produced by Danja (who worked on Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds), Spears gets voyeuristic with a tantalizing promise to get wild in the club. The hypnotic Get Naked (I Got a Plan), also produced by Danja, features Spears breathlessly asking, "What I gotta do to make you move my body," before demanding, "take it off, take it off, take it off."
Listening to Blackout is not only an energetic release, it is also a relief: No, Spears has not completely lost it, and yes, her career has a flicker of fire left.
Two years ago Chris Brown's self-titled debut album had hard hip-hop beats to match his lightweight love songs, and part of his appeal was that he wasn't too old to flash a big smile or flaunt his good manners. His was a simple and hugely effective strategy; in a radio landscape dominated by sordid R 'n' B and gruff hip-hop, Brown out-niced the competition.
Now Brown returns as a relative veteran and, as of a few months ago, a legal adult. It hasn't been easy. After a single, Wall to Wall, failed to build momentum, his new album, Exclusive, was delayed. Now he's back on top with Kiss Kiss, the second single, which hit number one on Billboard's Hot 100 chart last week.
Oddly, Exclusive finds a formerly enthusiastic boy sounding a bit anxious about his position as a full-grown lover-man. The album begins with Throwed, a rather inert dance track that's supposed to be a tribute to the homegrown Washington funk sound known as go-go.
Elsewhere he borrows brazenly from R 'n' B contemporaries: With You could almost be a cover of Beyonce's Irreplaceable. Damage, a dreary ballad, isn't improved by the T-Pain-ish vocal processing. I Wanna Be starts with a sotto-voce introduction that's bound to remind listeners of Usher's Burn. It's odd to hear a likable young star sounding so desperate.
But when he relaxes a bit, he discovers that his old approach works as well as it ever did. Hold Up has a squelching bass line and some loopy rhymes from Big Boi, and Lottery is four minutes of Brown in can-I-have-your-number mode. Then there's Down, a thrilling mishmash with a stomping beat, a heraldic electric guitar line, a memorable Kanye West appearance and a monster chorus that should come blasting out of radios sometime in the next few months.
It took the Eagles 28 years and 13 years of reunion tours playing oldies to come up with a new studio album, Long Road Out of Eden. And they could have made most of the album back in 1979. Back then, they were young stars singing well-made, meticulously harmonized, twang-tinged pop songs about the disillusionment and self-pity of a comfortable American life. Now even more world-weary, they cling to their old musical templates.
They sound, all too neatly, like the Eagles of yesteryear in the Almost Gone boogie of How Long, the Tequila Sunrise revamp Waiting in the Weeds and the falsetto funk of Fast Company, which could be a late-1970s Bee Gees take on Life in the Fast Lane.
Not until 12 songs into the album do the Eagles unveil something contemporary: the 10-minute title song. It's their take on the war in Iraq, declaring, "the road to empire is a bloody, stupid waste." The music is customized with what sounds like a duduk, an Armenian flute, and a military snare drum, but it's still the kind of stolid, mid tempo song the Eagles have long relied on, with a guitar solo that virtually reruns Hotel California, stopping unfortunately short of the twin guitars.
With the first couplet of his inescapable hit single, A Bay Bay, the 18-year-old rapper from Shreveport, Louisiana, known as Hurricane Chris established himself as one of hip-hop's most promising young stars. In case it's not already imprinted on your brain: When I holler 'A bay bay,' I'm finna get my groove on/It's so hot up in the club that I ain't got no shoes on. Just like that he painted a vivid, if misleading, portrait of nightlife in northwestern Louisiana.
A mixtape, Louisi-Animal, further revealed his knack for playful, dexterous rhymes. Now, at long last, comes his major-label debut, 51/50 Ratchet. Sadly, it doesn't do much to advance his cause. The beats are puzzlingly dull; Phunk Dawg, the Baton Rouge producer behind A Bay Bay, doesn't contribute anything else to match that song's sleek propulsion. And while Hurricane Chris excels at loopy rhymes that sound like freestyles, this album doesn't give him much chance to show off his antic approach.
The occasional slippery, sing-song refrain hints at the addictive album he might still make one day, with a big budget or without. And his disarming sense of humor remains his greatest advantage. In Leaving You he absent-mindedly repeats his catchphrase, then promptly fesses up, rapping, "This supposed to be a sad song, but I said 'A Bay Bay.'" Bad news and good news, then: "promising" is still the word.
The second expedition of Commodore Matthew Perry of the US to Japan in 1854 sent ships to Formosa on the way back to the US to assess Keelung’s potential as a coaling station. Far-sighted, Perry recommended that the US establish a presence on Formosa, as Taiwan was then known. His suggestion went unheeded, but others were watching, few more closely than Prussia. The Prussians had wanted to follow up the Americans with an expedition of their own. In 1858, when William I became regent, the idea of entering the colonial race in the Far East began to take shape in the
To the consternation of its biological father — China — the young nation of Taiwan seems to prefer its step-dad, Japan. When the latter was forced out, a semi-modernized iteration of the former returned. And just as some people thrive as adults, despite an unstable childhood, Taiwan has become a democratic success. Unfortunately, the island’s biological father behaves like a parent who is no use, yet who continues to meddle. A combination of rose-tinted retrospection and growing mutual respect has given many Taiwanese a highly positive attitude toward Japan. Physical reminders of the 1895-1945 period of Japanese rule are treasured,
Born in Aldershot in 1959, Russell Foster is a professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford and the director of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology. For his discovery of non-rod, non-cone ocular photoreceptors he received numerous awards including the Zoological Society scientific medal. His latest book — the first he has written without a co-author — is Life Time: The New Science of the Body Clock, and How It Can Revolutionize Your Sleep and Health. The Guardian: What is circadian neuroscience? Russell Foster: It’s the fundamental understanding of how our biology ticks on a 24-hour basis. But also it’s bigger than that —
How does Hong Kong look to people born in the year of the handover — for whom the city has always been under Chinese sovereignty? Some feel their fate is tied to Hong Kong’s, while others feel like bystanders as Beijing tightens its grip. Many plan to leave sooner or later. We spoke to six 24 and 25-year-olds about the Hong Kong they grew up in, and the one they expect to exist in another 25 years. THE RETURNING PROFESSIONAL “I feel helpless witnessing the changes that Hong Kong has been through,” said Keanne Lee. “At the same time, I want to keep