Today James Blunt comes out of nowhere to let the world know he’s retiring from music, needing to “have time to himself” despite his actions generally speaking for themselves: no album since 2010, no touring since 2011. I can’t help but think of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” where she sings:
I remember when we broke up the first time
Saying: “This is it, I’ve had enough.”
We hadn’t seen each other in a month
When you said you needed space.
Message to James Blunt — no one’s waiting for your new album. As Bob Lefsetz outlines in his email column today, in the modern music industry you either release new material or you die. This ties into rules 3 and 4 as he relays it: “Make new music” and “keep improving your music.” If you need space, we’re perfectly happy to remember the beautiful relationship while it lasted. But let’s be blunt: We’ve moved on.
I can be forgiven for being a bit late to the party when it comes to singing Ed Sheeran’s praises, but that’s only because I’m not particularly plugged into U.K. pop trends. But I’ll be damned if Sheeran’s blend of pop, hip-hop and blues isn’t something that’s quickly winning a battle with my headphones, and it’s success he’s earned by fighting the hard way — touring, touring, touring, then writing his own songs to make those touring dates pay off. Bob Lefsetz just wrote a glowing recommendation today, which is how I stumbled onto “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You,” which sounded a bit too much like a cross between David Ford’s “State of the Union” and any Jason Mraz track. But I dug deeper, and the more I heard of Sheeran, the more hooked I became.
His first single, “The A Team,” defies all genre predictions, building on a light folk melody of guitar and vocals, painting a beautiful lyrical picture of a woman’s life wrecked by desperation and drugs, as she clings to her daydreams which seem to waste away by the minute. It’s a pop song for people who think they hate pop songs, people who are so jaded they think anything “pop” has to be synonymous with “facile.”
Then there’s also “Lego House” (starring Harry Potter’s own Rupert Grint) which speaks of “pick[ing] up the pieces and build[ing] a lego house … if things go wrong I can knock it down.” It’s a fitting metaphor for building a relationship, which requires a willingness to fail in order to build things back even stronger than before. “I’ll do it all for you in time,” he sings. “I think I love you better now.” It’s a beautiful pop melody anchored by tremors of piano meted against staccato hip-hop percussion and Sheeran’s powerful vocals. Knowing that he’s a product of his own hard work, not the brainchild of a heartless, mindless corporate groupthink mentality makes the music all the more resonant.
The coup de grace is the solo arrangement of “Wayfaring Stranger,” recorded for his “One Take EP” … built on a series of loops and layers, everything here is recorded on the spot, and the raw emotion of the session pours through every second of the recording. If you can listen to this and not want to hear more from this artist on the rise, you’ve got no musical soul. I’m not sure that Sheeran will be the biggest star in the U.S. by April, as Lefsetz surmises … I’ve been burned way too many times trying to predict which artists will successfully make the cross-Atlantic trip intact (to be honest, I never thought Adele would even catch on with our fickle-minded pop tastes.) But I can say with certainty he deserves to reach a wider audience here in the States.
It only takes one listen, and you’ll spend the rest of the day diving back in for more.
Pete Townshend tells the BBC that he feels Apple is a digital vampire, bleeding artists dry as the company destroys copyright as we know it. He then attacked music fans he accuses of “stealing” music online, saying we might as well steal his son’s bike while we’re at it. He really goes off the deep end, however, arguing that Apple, a software and technology company, somehow needs to get into A&R, by “employing 20 talent scouts from the dying record business” to guide new acts and provide marketing support to the best ones.
Let me say this: Pete Townshend is out of his depth for several reasons.
1. Apple does not inherently owe anyone in the music industry anything, for having innovated in ways the dying record industry failed.
2. Digital music is not going anywhere. Selling music online doesn’t stop record company A&R folks from going out and finding new talent and then giving them room to develop. But wait!
3. A&R doesn’t exist anymore in the way Townshend envisions it. The days of giving bands years to find their artistic way are dead and gone. You either have yourself a big-assed hit right now or you find your way to the door and walk through. And if you can’t match that hit double or nothing, you can go just as easily.
4. We’re supposed to force a tech innovator to go back to what DOESN’T work in order to prop up an industry built on ideas which are mired in the past? Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Bob Lefsetz does a good job taking apart the idea that bands will benefit by being signed by these so-called “Industry Experts” in his column from yesterday. The true inefficiency in the music industry is in the artists themselves … who’s going to stand up and fight for good music if the bands aren’t willing to work, expecting some big benefactor from on high to step down and hand them a career from the top of the music industry mountain? If Townshend wants to step off his high horse and do something productive, let HIM be the A&R man. Let HIM sign a few artists he believes in and then put his money where his mouth is! Teach these kids what it means to work your ass off for years before you get a big break … how to tour like mad, work music like a job until maybe, just maybe, some success comes around.
Or he can sit around and blame Apple. And blame the music fans who put him in the perfectly comfortable situation he’s in right now where he can mouth off and call us all virtual bike thieves.
The success of music-based technology, and Apple’s success in particular, proves that you can do things on your own, taking full control of your artistic destiny by bypassing the gatekeepers and putting your music out on your own terms. It’s music democracy … no one’s going to hand it to you, you’ve got to earn it. And if your music isn’t good enough, you’ll sink to the bottom.
Don’t blame that on Apple. And don’t blame that on music fans. Blame that on a fundamental unwillingness to adapt and rebuild.
We’re never going to save the music industry by rebuilding the failed system.
Fresh off their huge and elaborate mention in one of Bob Lefsetz’s most recent Lefsetz Letters, Fitz and the Tantrums have announced a handful of new tour dates, for which fan-specific early ticketing is now on! If you haven’t heard the band — and by all means, you should get out there and HEAR THIS BAND! — what better time than now is there to go out and catch a great live band doing what they do best? Anyone can record something well in a studio and make it sound good. But it takes a unique group of artists to go out night after night and make their music come alive, staying fresh and original all the way.
To order tickets, visit the band’s ticketing site and register with your email address, and you’ll get a password to order tickets free of the whole Ticketmaster surcharge game. The following shows are available as of this posting:
April 10: 20th Century Theatre (Cincinnati OH)
April 11: The Orange Peel (Asheville NC)
April 12: Music Farm (Charleston SC)
April 14: The Loft (Atlanta GA)
April 17: Soul Kitchen (Mobile AL)
April 18: House of Blues Houston (Houston TX)
April 19: La Zona Rosa (Austin TX)
April 20: House of Blues Dallas (Dallas TX)
April 22: Santa Fe Brewing Company (Santa Fe NM)
April 24: Club Congress (Tucson AZ)
And for those of you out of the loop still, here’s a great reason to check the band out, courtesy of our friends at YouTube:
And if you want some background on the band’s hard-working ethic, you can read their response to Lefsetz’s letter. It’s an interesting read!
The Grammy nominations for “Best New Artist” are:
Florence & The Machine
Mumford & Sons
And the winner is … who the fuck is Esperanza Spaulding?
Okay, seriously. I know the Grammys don’t mean jack these days, and NARAS wouldn’t be itself if they didn’t screw up at least one big award. But I think Bob Lefsetz summed it up with one line: “This is what eviscerates the credibility of NARAS. Is it a mainstream clusterfuck or an insider circle jerk?”
You change the rules to make sure Drake can still be nominated. You add in Florence + The Machine and Mumford & Sons — and Mumford has actually sold more than 750,000 copies of their debut, despite supposedly not having amarketable sound.
Then you nominate “Leave it to Bieber” to keep the teen set interested, and the best they can think of is to give the award to a jazz bassist and singer who has sold maybe 5,000 copies of her albums if she’s lucky. Oh, wait, it’s a Herbie Hancock sized conspiracy to help her have next week’s #1 album when thousands of drooling TV viewing morons rush out to buy what the Grammys’ told them insiders really are listening to.
Puhleeeze … It’s Jethro Tull in the metal category all over again. I’ll let Homer Simpson lead us out:
Year of the Album — #001
Todd Alsup – “Todd Alsup”
MajorWho (2011) – Independent
Similar Albums: Regie Hamm – “American Dreams” (Universal, 2003)
Jon McLaughlin – “Indiana” (Island, 2007)
Hanson – “Shout It Out” (3CG, 2010)
There’s something really infectious about Todd Alsup’s music. Infectious enough that, despite not having a major label deal or any real push behind his music, he was able to draw high praise from blogger Bob Lefsetz and from Sirius / XM’s Larry Flick (who called Todd “a true contender!”) I’ve been following his music since he first released his debut, Facts and Figures, so it’s great to see a deserving artist actually getting the industry respect he’s been worthy of for years.
But the fact remains, his new self-titled album will be released on May 24th with Alsup still bubbling under the radar, and it would be a shame if most people aren’t going to get the chance to hear it. Songwriter Regie Hamm, who became famous years later for writing one of the many American Idol “winner’s songs,” produced one of the better pop albums of 2003, following a concept of traversing as many genres as it had songs, tying the subjects to life in modern-day America. In that vein, Todd Alsup also loves genre-hopping, and the album’s all the better for it. There’s something for everyone here, yet the album manages to remain cohesive due to his willingness to stick with his tried and true signature sound (which hearkens back to the soul of Stevie Wonder while adding the modern touches of Michael Bublé, Harry Connick, Jr., and (surprisingly) Shout It Out-era Hanson (horns abound, thank God!)
The album’s full of winning tracks. “Getting Gone” may be the most single-ready, with its addictive chorus brimming with alliteration and introspection: “She’s got a talent that’s unparalleled. She’s mastered moving on; she’s gotten good at getting gone.” We’ve all been in the situation he’s describing, being the one who picks up the pieces from someone we’ve loved who seems to be oblivious to anyone outside the self. The upbeat piano, drums and bass combo blends perfectly with Alsup’s strong vocals and the lifting background voices which help tie it all together.
“How I’m Made” is anthemic, and it’s easy to tell how it’s become a finalist in a major songwriting competition recently. The song would be one Michael Bublé or Jamie Cullum would kill to perform, as Alsup outlines his many faults, arguing that he can’t change how he’s been made … though his biggest fault is his inability to prevent his heart from being broken. “But my biggest fault is that I always give my heart too soon; I fell in love with you and I began to plan the honeymoon. And now look at me! I’m broken-hearted, I let myself get played … and you’d think that by now that I’ve have learned to protect myself from getting burned. Maybe one of these days I’ll finally make the grade!” It’s a song of honest introspection, but he’s not dwelling on what he cannot change. He’s claiming it as a badge of honor. I can picture this one becoming something Chris Colfer’s character could pull off nicely on Glee if given the chance – and boy wouldn’t that raise Alsup’s profile?
As I’ve said, there’s something for everyone here: the disco-groove of “The Only Thing” manages to sound authentic without becoming cloying (and according to Alsup’s latest press release, is destined to be his first big official single release, complete with a video, if fans can help raise funds via a Kickstarter project). I could see the song playing in a disco mix with classics of the genre without sounding out of place. “The Way It Goes” pulls off straightforward soul with aplomb, managing to make a really downbeat message (“that’s just the way it goes”) without losing its groove. And “I Feel” sounds like it could have been a missing track from Maroon 5’s latest album, with Alsup truly sounding like he’s unstoppable and on top of the world.
Put it all together and you’ve got an infectious party album which manages to be both modern and a throwback to an era when album pop was more than just a collection of auto-tuned singles. It’s the first independent album of 2011 I can fully and wholeheartedly put my critical support behind, and for fans of great pop music you’re not going to go wrong buying this album. Trust me, it’s a keeper. And Todd Alsup’s bound to be a household name if he can just continue to build the momentum he’s taken into the new year.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Review Updated: 02/24/2010 — now includes new release date
information as well as a link to the Kickstarter campaign to help produce a
music video for “The Only Thing”
Find out more at Todd’s website: http://www.toddalsup.com