their piercing sounds fill my ears

posted at 12:58 am by brandon in now hear this

Today, the Buzz leaps across the pond to acquaint you with three young women who are all gorgeous, who each have hot new albums to promote, and who are collectively the most sizzling British imports (one of them, crazy enough, by way of Stockholm) this side of fish and chips.

Her given name is Robin Carlsson, but you’ll probably recognize her better as Robyn. In the spring of 1997, with “MMMBop” and “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” leading the charge as the earth-shattering teen pop explosion was just gathering its initial head of steam, Robyn slipped in quietly through the back door with a pair of ridiculous-but-fun radio singles (the bouncy “Do You Know (What It Takes),” with that irresistibly stupid “always be uh-reowwwwwwnd” refrain, and its follow-up, the slightly meatier “Show Me Love”), and, although it seemed as though an instant pop star had been minted, all she ultimately succeeded in doing was niftily foreshadowing the momentous arrival of Miss Britney a mere twelve months later.

After eleven years outside the spotlight — during which time she cut all ties with BMG Music and formed her own independent label, Konichiwa Records — Robyn is finally back to reclaim her fame, and this time on her terms. Her self-titled fourth album — this one decidedly more rock-tinged and adventurous than any of her synthesizer-drenched previous efforts — dropped overseas eighteen months ago, and though it was a hit in her native Sweden, it was a phenom in Great Britain, and as the buzz built on this side of the Atlantic, she decided the time was right to return to the scene of her greatest commercial success. Methinks she’ll have a considerably tougher row to hoe this second time around, but the intriguing Robyn is certainly worth a look-see.

Led by the infectious smash “Mercy,” which is approaching critical mass at multiple radio formats as the year churns toward summer, a freshman sensation from Wales called Duffy is looking more and more like the newcomer of the year. Because it shares hints of the same soul-infused Brill Building sound that made Amy Winehouse such a white-hot supernova just one year ago, Rockferry, her fantastic debut album, got saddled with the same similarly massive pre-release anticipation and hype as Back to Black did last summer. The good news is, the record more than exceeds its potential; a creative and commercial triumph, Rockferry is loaded with enjoyable tunes (do not miss “Warwick Avenue,” the album’s emotional centerpiece) and with skilled vocal work from a wise-beyond-her-years neophyte. (Speaking of wise, the terrific Sherry Ann — who generally is much more perceptive on these matters — made a Duffy-related crack recently, saying something on the order of, “I don’t need a new Dusty Springfield in my life when the old one is hanging on just fine.” (That’s not an exact quote, understand, but that was certainly the gist of her knee-jerk criticism.) Sherry, honey, your humble servant here urges you to carry your ear closer to the speaker, whereupon, I posit, you’ll quickly come to recognize that Duffy isn’t trying to ape Dusty at all, but rather another ’60s British heroine. My darling, Duffy is Lulu reborn, and not even a full-throated “To Sir, With Love” cover could make it any clearer!)

Of course, in her quest to become the year’s most spectacular breakthrough, Duffy’ll have to best a sizzling firecracker name of Leona Lewis, who is setting the whole damn world on fire with her debut single (the enormously catchy “Bleeding Love”; co-written by those breathtaking boy geniuses Ryan Tedder and Jesse McCartney, the song just became the most played track in the history of top 40 radio) and album (Spirit, which shows off Lewis’ five-octave-plus range in spectacular fashion, and which, beginning with the fabulous “Better in Time,” is positively loaded with future singles). Lewis rose to prominence after winning both “The X Factor” — the United Kingdom’s answer to “American Idol” — and Simon Cowell’s notoriously elusive seal of approval. Cowell placed his latest protégé in the hands of a veritable cabal of A-list writers and producers, and the rest is history. Recognize it, folks: With Lewis, you’re witnessing the birth of a superstar.

Since the dawn of radio, America has had a passionate, tempestuous love affair with Great Britain’s lasses, so in honor of the three most recent additions to that remarkable canon, why don’t we take a stroll down mem’ry lane and check in with a handful of other noteworthy English ladies, each of whom pursued and prehended stateside success with dogged determination.

1. “Son of a Preacher Man” — Dusty Springfield (from Dusty in Memphis) — Dusty Springfield - Dusty In Memphis (Deluxe Edition) - Son of a Preacher Man — one of those rare intersections of singer and song (think James Taylor with “Fire and Rain,” think Elvis Presley with “Love Me Tender,” think Stevie Nicks with “Dreams”) where the result is so authentically true that it defies, it transcends, mere music.

2. “Smooth Operator” — Sade (from The Best of Sade) — Sade - The Best of Sade - Smooth Operator — a suave swath of flowing, musical silk from one of the ’80s’ most uniquely identifiable voices.

3. “This Woman’s Work” — Kate Bush (from The Sensual World) — Kate Bush - The Sensual World - This Woman's Work — given my extreme devotion to Ms. Amos, it’s amazing how much of Bush’s esoteric oeuvre has gone flying straight past me, but there’s no denying the power emanating from this devastating three-and-a-half minutes. Regret never seemed so palpable. Or sounded so gorgeous.

4. “Strut” — Sheena Easton (from Greatest Hits) — Sheena Easton - Sheena Easton: Greatest Hits - Strut — allowing Prince to muddy up her squeaky-clean sound in 1984 turned out to be the smartest artistic move Easton ever made, as he gave her the two biggest hits of her solo career (the innocence-shattering “Sugar Walls” — a dirty little ditty that landed Easton in Tipper Gore’s graceless crosshairs — being the other) and forced the era’s other females (foremost among them Madonna, who would unleash “Like a Virgin” before year’s end) to similarly step up their games.

5. “Why” — Annie Lennox (from Diva) — Annie Lennox - Diva - Why — even those of us who worshipped the ground the Eurythmics floated above weren’t ready for this enchanting 1992 masterstroke, Lennox’s quietly fiery solo debut. You can’t name ten songs that are better than “Why”; every time I hear this, I’m flabbergasted by its utter perfection.

6. “All Woman” — Lisa Stansfield (from Biography) — Lisa Stansfield - Lisa Stansfield: Biography - The Greatest Hits - All Woman — fine, the bewitching Stansfield never equaled the triumph (neither creatively nor commercially) that was her once-a-century breakthrough “All Around the World.” But, the aforementioned Lennox aside, no woman has ever come closer to matching pound for pound Dusty’s grasp on the intricacies of blue-eyed soul.

7. “Your Loving Arms” — Billie Ray Martin (from Deadline for My Memories) — Billie Ray Martin - Your Loving Arms - Remixes - Your Loving Arms (Original Extended Mix) — save for Todd Terry’s magical reinvention of Everything But the Girl’s “Missing” and, probably, King George’s pulse-pounding ode to sizzling Beemer sex, “Fastlove,” this high-octane stunner (which gave the ’90s’ burgeoning house music movement its first genuine classic, and which continues to stand as Brian Transeau’s masterpiece as a producer, no question) was its decade’s most dizzyingly brilliant dance track. Martin’s hypnotic voice, a masterfully modulated blend of dry ice and blistering fire, folds itself into the lyric so flawlessly that you actually manage to forget you’re supposed to be dancing, and you rather begin to believe you actually need to help this woman navigate her desperation and pain.

10 responses to “their piercing sounds fill my ears”

  1. the buzz from Sherry Ann:

    Wow! A. you should buy every track on this playlist. I am not sure how I feel about the new crop of Brits, but the ones on the playlist are classics. (By the way, I stand by my Duffy comment!) So B, throw in some Natasha Bedingfield, Adele, Lily Allen, and some doritos and you have got yourself a par-tay.

  2. the buzz from A.:

    It’s almost 1:30 in the morning, and I just got back from a six-day tour of the Midwest, so with no time for a proper response, here are a few quick takes: Dusty Springfield, Annie Lennox, and Sade speak to me rather well while Sheena Easton and Kate Bush unfortunately do not; Lisa Stansfield and Billie Ray Martin – I am still thinking. Sorry to disappoint y’all, but let’s see what happens after I have a chance to listen a bit more over the weekend… Looking forward to discovering Robyn, Duffy, and Leona Lewis as well.

  3. the buzz from brandon:

    Yes, Sherry Ann! On my original list that got whittled down to seven, I had Natasha and Lily and Bonnie Tyler and Enya and Sinead. But I had to draw the line somewhere! A, if you don’t buy the Billie Ray Martin track, I swear I’ll never speak to you again. (Sherry herself will tell you it took me years to forgive her for not falling in instant love with that brilliant song, and even she came around eventually!)

  4. the buzz from A.:

    Wow, I would have had all of those on my list too (except for Lily — I don’t know who that refers to)! I didn’t realize that they are all British too!

  5. the buzz from brandon:

    Well technically, Enya and Sinead are Irish, and Bonnie is Welsh, but it’s all the same general area. 🙂

  6. the buzz from A.:

    Hehe, I won’t get into the debate as to what exactly constitutes the British Isles (and some of the natives may get rather upset at your generalization that it’s all “the same general area” (however true that may be!)).

    However, you did not answer my question: who is Lily? As for Billie Ray Martin, I fear your wrath, but we can discuss further later. 😉

  7. the buzz from brandon:

    is it not totally cute how he thinks I’m kidding about Billie Ray Martin?

  8. the buzz from A.:

    Of course I went with the Billie Ray Martin song, and after some discussions with Brandon, I still maintain that that particular track is not that much different from Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch” (the song that started this whole blog, to a degree at least) – both are great (beat, melody, and even the singing), but neither, in my humble opinion, is a masterpiece. My shield at hand, I am ready for the rebuttal!

  9. the buzz from brandon:

    So, he bought the song, which qualifies as a victory, no question. But was a victory ever so bittersweet?

    I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not A’s fault, and that, because his appreciation for good pop music is still very much in its infancy (my constant Zen chant: “He’s only been in this country since 1990, he’s only been in this country since 1990, he’s only been….”), most of his points of reference are crudely elementary, so that when he hears something as all-out spectacular as “Your Loving Arms” (which is as evident a masterpiece as was produced in the whole of the ’90s, A’s swift dismissal of that notion be damned), he can’t compare it to — as I suggested in the playlist’s corresponding paragraph — the best of Everything But the Girl or George Michael, or Paul Oakenfold or Erasure, because those folks haven’t, in any significant way, slipped past the goalie that guards the Venus flytrap that houses A’s musical vernacular. Therefore, he’s forced to return back to something like Cascada as his primary reference point.

    May I submit this: with “Everytime We Touch,” Cascada was obviously aiming for a simple radio hit. But with “Arms” (and with Deadline for My Memories, the stunning album that surrounds it), Martin and her producer, the electrifying Brian Transeau, were clearly aiming for greatness. For that reason alone (read: I’ll be charitable and leave alone A’s outrageous comment about the vocal performances being imperceptibly similar), the two tracks aren’t remotely comparable. Picture, if you will, the shattering difference between a cheap one night stand and an intense, passion-filled love affair. The base mechanics of either are entirely identical, but the emotions involved and the sensations stoked, anything but.

  10. the buzz from Mike T:

    In chatting with A, I realized I should have made a shout out on behalf of my current favorite British female singer, Linda Thompson. I’ve not listened to her pre-divorce/loss of voice albums, but, her post-recovery albums have a depth of warmth and emotion that never fails to touch me. ‘No Telling’ from her album ‘Fashionably Late’ is probably my favorite. She’s a consummate story teller.