Well, another week and another chart and guess who’s on top – yep you guessed it, the Frozen Soundtrack. While sales aren’t exactly hot across the board, the additional 133,000 copies that the unstoppable soundtrack sold are solid, particularly compared to the rest of the albums. How sound is 133,000 copies? Well according to Billboard, Pharrell ascended back to his peak position (no. 2) this week, selling 29,000 copies. Talk about April being the month of the music sales drought!
Honestly, the news on the charts isn’t good, particularly since a holdover like G I R L outsold the new entries. MercyMe bring little inspiration where sales are concerned, dropping Welcome to the New at no. 4 and a modest 26,000 copies. Black Label Society isn’t too far off, as Catacombs of the Black Vatican lands at no. 5. SoMo, t
he third new offering in the top 10, seems to have a small ceiling given a no. 6 bow with 23,000 copies sold. Still, there is prestige in claiming a Billboard top ten album – some better known/veteran R&B artists have yet to accomplish the feat. Saddest in regards to numbers is Martina McBride, whose soul covers album Everlasting sold a scant 21K. While the no. 7 bow isn’t shabby, the numbers aren’t impressive. Ultimately, it seems the four newbies in the top 10 underwhelmed in regards to their impact. Then again, everything is underwhelming – save for Frozen.
On the Hot 100, Pharrell Williams continues to sit pretty at no. 1 with “Happy”. Keeping R&B locked up at the top, John Legend continues a remarkable run with “All of Me” at no. 2. As far as albums that should make some sort of impact next week, August Alsina (Testimony) and Jason Derülo (Talk Dirty) are among the group. Ingrid Michaelson is also in the mix with Lights Out. Still, April seems to be absent of a true blockbuster album with commercial footing.
5 Seconds of Summer, the new Australian teen band, has nothing to hang their heads about; debuting at no. 2 with 143,000 copies of a four-song EP (She Looks So Perfect) is definitely notable. Settling for that no. 2 spot behind the unstoppable Frozen Soundtrack (149,000 copies sold) – well that should boost confidence even more considering no one can end Frozen’s run. After the slim margin separating album nos. 1 and 2, there is a huge gap. Chevelle’s La Gargola sold 45,000 copies, good for the no. 3 spot. Former “Jar of Hearts” pop singer/songwriter Christina Perri debuts at a familiar spot (no. 4), but does so smaller numbers for sophomore album Head or Heart (40,000 copies). Country gets its representation from Dan + Shay, who sold 29,000 copies of Where It All Began (no. 6). Nickel Creek also get a top ten berth, selling 27,000 copies of their first album following a lengthy hiatus, Why Should the Fire Die? Hey, they don’t call it lucky no. 7 for no reason, right?
On the songs chart, specifically the Billboard Hot 100, Pharrell Williams continues to make us all “Happy” for yet another week, according to Billboard. What is most shocking to me is that John Legend’s “All Of Me” is so hot, though I felt the hit potential when the underappreciated Love in the Future arrived in September 2013. For R&B and for Legend, the popularity of the rather conservative track is awesome.
Next week doesn’t seem electrifying as far as notable new releases. Still, albums arrive from Martina McBride (Everlasting), MercyMe (Welcome To The New), James Durbin (Celebrate), and SoMo (SoMo) among others. “It is what is”.
March was a rich month for music releases. After listening and reviewing multiple albums, it is always fun to pick out one big time standout. Sometimes it is a difficult choice, while other times it’s the only choice (particularly on a sub-par album). After looking back through my late-February and March reviews, I’ve compiled a playlist of one favorite from each album.
From the album Morning Phase
Note: Morning Phase was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
Folks, Beck is the man. Morning Phase was yet another stacked album from the hipster with numerous top-notch songs. A personal favorite was the first full-length track, “Morning” of which I penned the following:
…Constructed with lush strings at its core, “Cycle” foreshadows the electrifying opener, “Morning”. Sure, “Morning” lacks tempo by all means, opting for balladry, but it’s extremely beautiful and perfectly suits Beck’s unique voice. Beck breaks enough with the ‘acoustic resolve’ here, with Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. adding some synthesizer color. The ‘color’ element is something found throughout Morning Phase, even if it is subtle. Lyrically, the entire song is thoughtfully penned, with the chorus standing out tremendously: “This morning / I let down my defenses / this morning / it was just you and me…” Clocking in at over five minutes, “Morning” is no drag by any means.
Schoolboy Q featuring Tyler, The Creator & Kurupt
From the album Oxymoron
Note: Oxymoron was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
Schoolboy Q exhibits grittiness about him throughout the course of Oxymoron, which ultimately proves to be a solid album. It’s not the most pleasant album to listen to in regards to its content mind you, but the quality is there. “The Purge” was among my favorites:
“The Purge” is a beast, produced by and featuring Tyler, The Creator. Again, Schoolboy Q’s daughter establishes the tone: “My daddy said drown, n***a.” The significance of the line seems to be “the purge” that Schoolboy Q references within the title and song. “Coming in for yours / n***as got them choppers and they knocking at your door,” Tyler, the Creator spits on the hook. “The sirens getting louder when the bodies hit the floor / why you look confused? Motherf**ker this is war.” Schoolboy Q plays right into the maliciousness, referencing kilos, drug money, and guns. Q’s most notable moment comes during a bridge between verses: “Bust my gun all by myself / rock cocaine all by myself / poured propane all on myself / go so hard might harm myself.” Oh, and did I mention Kurupt also guests on the third verse? “The Purge” goes hard.
“Going To The Ceremony”
From the album Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon
Note: Satellite Flight was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
Kid Cudi is an oddball – as left field as they come. This nonconformity is what makes him shine, yet also hurts his overall accessibility to many Earth dwellers. A surprise fourth album in Satellite Flight proves to be as confounding as it is interesting. Still, “Going To The Ceremony” was a moment where the Kid was at his best/true to himself:
The real heat comes with “Going To The Ceremony”, the first vocal track of Satellite Flight. Opening uniquely itself with spoken word intro (“Now certainly we all recognize the extremely, extremely low probability / of life existing on the moon”), the track dives right into the rock-rap, left-of-center approach that Kid Cudi as well as WZRD has come to be known for. This includes the typical humming, the repetitive lyrics (“But I don’t know where I’m going / where I’m going, it’s all happening / I’m going, it’s all happening”), as well as the driving, minimalism. “Going To The Moon” is familiar fare for the artist.
From the album St. Vincent
Note: St. Vincent was a late February release that wasn’t reviewed until March.
From one oddball to another, it should be noted that St. Vincent once guested on a Kid Cudi album – Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager to be precise. On her own self-titled album, St. Vincent awes with her incredible songwriting abilities, with none usurping the brilliant “Digital Witness”:
“Digital Witness” is a definitely standout, with its soulful, groove-laden production work. St. Vincent definitely criticizes social media/networking, and how it’s affected traditional social relationships. “People turn the TV on, it looks like a window.” Basically, St. Vincent seems to suggest that real-life interaction has been supplanted with any number apps and social networking avenues. “Digital witnesses / what’s the point of even sleeping,” St. Vincent sings on the chorus. “If I can’t show it if you can’t see me / what’s the point of doing anything?” Does she overreact to the power of social media? Perhaps or perhaps not, but she makes one awesome song in the process.
After six non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard 200 Albums Charts, the Frozen Soundtrack makes it a seventh week at the penthouse. This week, Frozen rallies to sell a gargantuan 202,000 copies. I guess folks just can’t “Let It Go” – bad joke, I know. I’d say that the release of the album to DVD/Blu-ray/Digital likely had a role in elevating those sales. After Frozen, things get a bit hairier.
YG debuts at no. 2 with album My Krazy Life, which sold 61,000 copies. 61,000 copies isn’t a bad number, but don’t call it sexy either. Foster The People land at no. 3, moving 54,000 copies of Supermodel, their second album. Skrillex follows at no. 4 with Recess, which sold 47,000 copies. Apparently there were physical copies of Recess, though when I visited the CD section, I was unable to find it – it obviously got its sales totals from digital sales. Rock band The Pretty Reckless bow at no. 5, with 35,000 copies sold of Going to Hell (charming title, right?). Enrique Iglesias’ Sex and Love enters in at no. 8 with a tepid 24,000 copies while Taking Back Sunday land at no. 10 with 22,000 copies sold of Happiness Is. Iglesias and Taking Back Sunday have both had better days where sales are concerned.
“Happy” continues to be the story on the Billboard Hot 100 as Pharrell Williams’ infectious throwback R&B single is a big-time hit. Perhaps more surprising is the success of John Legend’s “All of Me”, which according to billboard.com has risen to no. 2 this week! Two R&B tracks sit in the top two of the Billboard Hot 100 – shocking!
Several new releases landed in the top 10 this week, even though the numbers were so-so for some. Next week, new albums arrive courtesy of Shakira (Shakira), Karmin (Pulses), Johnny Cash (Out Among the Stars), Erica Campbell (HELP), and My Chemical Romance (May Death Never Stop You: Greatest Hits 2001 – 2013) among others. All should definitely have no trouble charting and making some noise.
Ah, there is no better time of the year than March Madness… well maybe except for Christmas, LOL! It is a time where brackets continue to be devastated by college basketball teams many haven’t heard of upsetting highly favored giants. As disappointing (when my John Wall-led UK Wildcats lost to WVU in 2010 in the Elite 8) as it is exciting (when my UK Wildcats won the 2012 Championship), there are few things less satisfying than weekends filled with toughly contested basketball games. Still, what better way to celebrate all the basketball madness with some music madness?
I chose 16 albums released between January and March 11, 2014 to play off against each other, tournament style – hey can’t get enough of the “Madness” (Muse btw). Teams were seeded based on my opinion of their quality and how I believe they might be ranked (opinion). Don’t worry, there are some upsets based on basketball tournament trends to keep things interesting (again opinion). Additionally, each game is assigned an actual score from this year’s tournament or tournaments in the last couple of years. The score is meant to be indicative of how well matched respective albums would be in a playoff. Nerdy and pointless – perhaps, but I think its an interesting concept and read (opinion, self-promotion, LOL).
Here’s the bracket:
Well, the headline is pretty familiar folks as the Frozen soundtrack returns to the no. 1 spot yet again. What is most shocking/impressive is that that the numbers for the album don’t seem to change that much. This week, Frozen sold another 99,000 copies, a feat that many artists wished their albums could do consistently. Frozen even killed Luke Bryan’s vibe, as his umpteenth Spring Break EP (Spring Break 6…Like We Ain’t Ever to be accurate), bows at no. 2 with 74,000 copies. After two no. 1 albums last year, ole boy’s streak stops. Frozen, “it’s all your fault!”
Luke gets some company on the Billboard 200 where debuts are concerned. Aloe Blacc launches Lift Your Spirit with 45,000 copies sold, good enough to land at no. 4. 311 drop Stereolithic at no. 6, right ahead of Young Money’s second album, Rise of an Empire. The ‘empire’ may be rising according to Lil Wayne and company, but with a mere 31,000 copies sold, the stock seems to be dropping… No. 7 is a new high for Young Money, but previous self-titled debut sold considerably more despite debuting at no. 9. Sara Evans doesn’t have a ‘valedictory’ week herself, as Slow Me Down lands at no. 9 with a modest 27,000 copies. As for my girl Ledisi, well, let’s say her latest The Truth didn’t exceed the peak of Pieces of Me (no. 9), as The Truth misses the top 10.
Pharrell Williams, who manages to stay in the top ten of the albums chart, also keeps no. 1 locked down on the Billboard Hot 100. People must like the “Happy” vibes. As far as next week’s potential newbies on the chart, there are some options, but who knows how much any of them will sell. Supermodel is a notable attraction, courtesy of Foster The People. Enrique Iglesias isn’t exactly the force he once was, but Sex and Love might draw in some numbers. Skrillex drops his latest, Recess, while Taking Back Sunday teach us what Happiness Is. Oh and throw My Crazy Life (Y.G.) into the mix as well. May the best…selling album win the race!
Aloe Blacc • Lift Your Spirit • Interscope • US Release Date: March 11, 2014
R&B singer Aloe Blacc is not in his first rodeo; he had an outstanding single out in 2010 entitled “I Need A Dollar” that should have foreshadowed what was to come. Still, things only break for an artist when it’s the right time, and 2013-14 has proven to be the 35-year old singer’s time. Two gargantuan singles have truly given Blacc ‘wings to fly’ on his third album, Lift Your Spirit: “Wake Me Up” (Aviici) and “The Man”.
The momentum that is on his side – specifically crossover success into pop from urban music – carries over into this overall fine ‘introduction’. Sure, the singer, who has been associated with the Stones Throw label, has previously release two albums, but for many, this is their first impression of Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III. That impression is a favorable one ultimately.
“The Man” is nothing short of enthusiastic and proves to be a sensational opening cut. “Girl you can tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man,” Blacc sings passionately on the pre-chorus, before proclaiming “I got all the answers to your questions / I’ll be the teacher you could be the lesson…” on the chorus. The throwback vibe hearkening back to R&B’s prime just makes “The Man” that much greater. Throw in the lifted “Your Song” sample (Elton John) and soulful vocals from Blacc and “Everything is Sound” (Jason Mraz song reference FYI). The Pharrell Williams produced “Love Is The Answer” keeps things moving exceptionally well, again relying on the inspiration of the past. Sure Williams’ typical production cues are in play, but he doesn’t mess with the soulful script. In fact, “Love Is The Answer” sounds quite comparable to Williams’ own retro savvy on his own album G I R L. The chivalrous nature of “Love Is The Answer” is nothing short of admirable (“Just look around the whole wide world / so many beautiful things to see / take my hand and come along spread love with me.”).
“Wake Me Up (Acoustic)” is well placed given the popularity of the original Aviici single from True. Still, the argument against what essentially is a reprisal is that “Wake Me Up” has experienced its peak already, so why feature it once more? There is nothing wrong with the acoustic version – it’s a quality recording – but moving forward beyond the track also wouldn’t have hurt Blacc in the least. “Here Today” may not be among the best, but what is notable about it is that here specifically, Blacc truly channels the sound of Bill Withers. Whether it is intentional influence or not, “Here Today” shows the beauty of Blacc’s pipes. Additionally, much like the incredibly popular “The Man”, “Here Today” can pass off as an R&B or pop single. On “Can You Do This”, the sound is likened to Bruno Mars’s soulful throwback joint “Runaway”. They are clearly two different songs by different artists, but the sound is a modern day capture of retro-soul. Halfway through, things still remain ‘all good’ overall.
“Chasing” sports another funky groove and contrasts “Can You Do This” with a slower tempo. The use of horns adds another dimension, truly accentuating the song. The refrain is a ‘feel good’ one with Blacc singing of “girls chasing the boys” and so on. One specific highlighting moment is when the groove switches briefly to reggae, which is a sound contrast to the rest. “Chasing” isn’t revolutionary (nothing is on this album), but it is definitely one of the singer’s best songs. “The Hand Is Quicker” doesn’t lose a bit of momentum, with a hard, stomping groove and magnificent use of electric guitar, horns, and organ. Retro-soul is written all over this cut, with the backing vocals truly sealing the deal. “You know the hand / is quicker than the eye,” sings Blacc on the refrain, “Sometimes the truth / ain’t no better than a lie.” The sweetest spot of Blacc’s voice – when he ascends into his upper register.
“Ticking Bomb” is a treat; it contrasts its contemporaries on Lift Your Spirit and possesses certain intensity about it. Soulful, clear, and nuanced vocals by Blacc continue to be the story of the LP; he’s a man on fire. What’s equally remarkable is the fact that Blacc never over sings, giving just the right amount to draw the desired effect. “Red Velvet Seal” truly buys into vintage soul with its six-eight groove, a common cue of classic soul. Though the two songs are unrelated by all means, “Red Velvet Seal” hearkens back to Lenny Williams’ “Cause I Love You” given its over sound and feel. “Red Velvet Seal” is a strong penultimate track, even if it just misses the glory and notability of the top echelon. “Owe It All” provides the album’s obligatory spiritual cut, with Blacc thanking God for everything. An appropriate closer, the enjoyable “Owe It All” caps off a soundly conceived R&B album.
Ultimately, Lift Your Spirit does just that – it makes you feel happy. There are no deal breaking moments to be found, with consistency characterizing the album overall. Calling Lift Your Spirit an innovative affair would be an overstatement, but praising it for its solidness wouldn’t be in the least. Vocally, Aloe Blacc is a balanced singer who knows when to pull back and when to flash, which helps to make Lift Your Spirit so appealing throughout. It is the sensible R&B album that is ‘pop’ enough to crossover – just look at “The Man” for proof of that.
“The Man”; “Love Is The Answer”; “Chasing”; “Ticking Bomb”
2014 has been a mixed year for R&B. There’s been some good and there has also been so bad. Even though R&B is still struggling, 2014 has allowed for R&B to have its moments. Then again, it’s also had its bombs…big time bombs.
The Good :)
Alicia Keys regains some lost swagger, besting John Legend for the Grammy award for Best R&B Album
Sharon Jones shows she’s back with a vengeance following cancer on her new LP (with The Dap-Kings), Give The People What They Want
Toni Braxton & Babyface perform better than expected commercially on Love, Marriage & Divorce (66,000 copies sold the first week)
Pharrell Williams’ G I R L debuts at no. 2 and sells a respectable 112,000 copies…
The Recording Academy finally recognizes Robin Thicke with multiple Grammy nominations, albeit in pop categories.
John Newman (Tribute), Daley (Days & Nights), and Sam Smith (Nirvana EP) bring top-notch Brit-soul to America.
Algebra Blessett delivered one hot independent R&B album with Recovery (eOne).
Electronic duo Phantogram give legendary soul group The Chi-Lites some love on their song “Bill Murray” (Voices), which samples “The Coldest Days of My Life”.
Bruno Mars was awesome at the Super Bowl. Classify him as pop if you want to, but Bruno has plenty of soul. Oodles of it!
The Bad :-(
Tamar Braxton gets no Grammy love for her powerful adult contemporary R&B hit “Love & War”… guess it didn’t matter how much she was fighting for love…
No Grammys for Fantasia’s Side Effects Of You? Guess that’s what happens when one is nominated alongside Rihanna.
Candice Glover debuts with embarrassing numbers for her debut R&B album Music Speaks; additionally the numbers are south of R&B contemporaries (no. 14, 19,000 copies)
Going back to that American Idol thing, Ruben Studdard released his sixth album, Unconditional via Verve. It got very few bites… that would be an understatement. But this again, his debut did have that song “No Ruben” on it… just saying!
John Legend doesn’t win a Grammy of any sort for Love in the Future, a truly brilliant, soulful affair… just wrong! Do we have no appreciation for one of the classiest, soulful artists of our generation?
Ashanti’s numbers suck (regardless of the “good” point)… 28,000 copies, really? #NOSWAG
British R&B singer Daley’s debut album, Days & Nights got slept on big-time… Where was the promotional intensity? Dude can blow vocally!
Ty Dolla $ign is, um, NASTY! Have you heard Beach House (EP)?
Did I mention R&B doesn’t sell like it used to? I thought so.
Unsurprisingly, Rick Ross lands at a familiar spot on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, no. 1. Mastermind becomes the rapper’s fifth album to debut in the penthouse, selling a respectable 179,000 copies. All of Ross’ albums have sold solidly during their debut week – totals include 187,000, 198,000, 158,000, 176,000, and 218,000 with prior albums. Mastermind, hence, gives Ross his fourth best debuting effort, behind God Forgives, I Don’t, Trilla, and Port of Miami. Regardless, Rick Ross is making bank.
Pharrell has a solid week as well, moving 112,000 copies of his sophomore LP, G I R L. G I R L didn’t match the 142,000 copies that graced In My Mind, but ultimately exceeded expectations by prognosticators. Additionally, “Happy” retains its no. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, which can’t hurt. Lea Michele didn’t do too shabby with Louder, which debuted at no. 4 with 60,000 copies. I haven’t personally reviewed the album, but critics haven’t been kind to the Glee star. Eli Young Band debuts at no. 5, though the drop-off between Michele and Young is steep; 10,000 Towns sold 36,000 copies.
After holdovers including Frozen Soundtrack (no. 3), Beck (Morning Phase, no. 6), Lorde (Pure Heroine, no. 7) Schoolboy Q (Oxymoron, no. 8), and Eric Church (The Outsiders, no.9), Ashanti closes out the top 10 with her long awaited, oft-delayed fifth album, BraveHeart. BraveHeart’s numbers are nothing to write home about with 28,000 copies sold, but they are better than expected, at least from a personal perspective. Still, I’m sure Ashanti would’ve loved to have sold the 86,000 copies that The Declaration moved six years ago when it became her first bomb. 28,000 copies leaves no ceiling, but the effort has been very much under-the-radar regardless.
After a top heavy top three (including Frozen), next week seems like a letdown… no disrespect to Aloe Blacc (Lift Your Spirit), Ledisi (The Truth), or Young Money (Rise of an Empire). Where these albums fall sales wise should be interesting to see. “The Man” is popular, but is it enough to lift Black up the album charts? Ledisi’s base is the adult contemporary R&B market, so expecting a monster week from her wouldn’t be wise. Young Money might have the best shot, given its top ten debut with both Young Money (2009) and Rich Gang (2013). Still, both of those albums debuted at no. 9 with 142,000 and 24,000 copies respectively. I’m not making any chart predictions for next week!