CLIFF MASTERSON INTERVIEW PART TWO


Cliff & Harriet together in the studio.

I wanna talk about your songwriting - you've recently been in the studio with the new singer Harriet? (Harriets Soundcloud & Twitter)


Harriet is super talented and has the most fabulous voice. She is a great writer that is growing with every writing session. Every now and then a writing session comes along where everything seems to fall into place – the “Empty Shoes” writing day was one of those!
Her voice is.....well...she just has one of those voices that is like silk. That makes you stop in your tracks. How did you write songs with her and for that voice? 
We decided not to be afraid of the obvious, and just write something that we both loved....
Talking of unique voices you've extensively worked with Leona Lewis (recently namely on her tour and the Christmas album). How did that link-up come to be?
The Christmas album was a project that Biff Stannard asked me to work on. I have worked on many albums with Biff over the last 3 years, after meeting through the X Factor TV show. Biff asked me to write string and choir arrangements for a number of tracks including the Christmas hit “One More Sleep”. The track I am most excited for people to hear is our version of “Ave Maria” which begins to reveal the full extent of Leona’s vocal ability. The tour was another Steve Anderson collaboration. He wanted to have a small section touring with Leona and between us we put together arrangements for a small group of players.  With so many of Leona’s songs featuring strings it made sense to have them properly represented on the tour.
Hearing Leona sing live rehearsals or beyond - I mean I can't imagine....you could ever get use to?
Leona has a very special talent that never fails to give you goosebumps!
You were also involved in the delivery and arrangement of Flower. How was it working with on such a personal and tender song?
Working on this song for Steve and Kylie was a real privilege. It is a VERY personal song and I really wanted to do it justice. Steve had done much of the work on the arrangement before it got to me – I ‘pruned’ it here and there (wow, that’s dreadful) but the core ideas were all layed out beautifully already.
Generally speaking how was it working with a pop artist like Kylie....
Underneath every pop artist is a real person… Some artists hide behind their celebrity veil to maintain privacy (understandably) – others are more open. I love to meet and work with new people and I take them all as I find them. Kylie is one of the most disarming, naturally engaging people I have ever met.
Another Aussie singer with a voice that puts the sparkle every song she releases - Tina Arena. She is so disciplined (I wish she’d release more often though!). What was Tina like?
Love Tina!  Her voice is outstanding and she is huge fun in the studio.  We only had one day to write but it’s up there as one of the most enjoyable.

If I was to make a “Best of Cliff Masterson” big vocals will be the rod that runs through the wall of sound. Emeli Sande shook up the industry with her album that you worked on – Our Version of Events. I loved the intensity of the strings arranged on Heaven. It is an epic record. A brilliant first single. How did it come together with Emeli and Heaven?

Emeli’s “Heaven” was produced by Mike Spencer (who also worked on “Spinning Around” for Kylie).  It was one of those ‘who you know’ moments!  I had just returned from a songwriting retreat in Sweden that his wife, Liz had been attending.  She kindly recommended me and the rest, as they say, is history.

Another song of yours that featured huge vocals was the song I Ain’t Gonna Cry by Spanish diva Monica Naranjo. What was it like writing with her?

I co-wrote this song with John Reid who I mentioned previously.  We actually went out to Spain to record vocals on an entirely different song and ended up writing this while we were there. Monica preferred to work late in the day/overnight, so this was written in the middle of the night overlooking Barcelona Harbour (and a bottle of wine!)

Monica Naranjo fans are fascinated in this period of her career (under the guidance of David Massey). Was there any song or demo you’d done for the project that remains unreleased? 

Yep! The song we went out to record (called “Liar”) never saw the light of day…  and probably never will.

Actually on this area…I have to ask - of all the demos you've written that didn't quite see the light of day and where shelved which one did you think "awwww, thats a shame" and you’d absolutely love to take flight one day?

I wrote a song with Shayne Ward (X Factor) shortly after he won the competition. The song called “In My Father’s Eyes” was about a child who had grown up without his father present, subsequently meeting him and wondering whether he would find remorse, or even recognition ‘in his father’s eyes’.…I can see why it didn’t go on the album of course, but it is still a very moving song.

Last year saw your summer consumed in the studio arranging mighty Christmas songs for the Susan Boyle album (along with Steve Anderson). How was that experience? Elvis made an appearance too! - The king of Pop!  

….. and not just the summer! This was actually the first time I produced an entire album with Steve and we had a lot of fun working together.  Spending almost the entire year (from March to September) in Susan Christmas mode was a little strange though, especially when my next project was Leona’s Christmas offering closely followed by December when it really was Christmas! I was hoping to work exclusively on Easter records during 2014, but it didn’t happen….

It was a huge privilege to be the first UK production team to be allowed to re-work an Elvis classic from the multi-track – with complete free reign on where we could take the production.

Susan has a voice that itself holds its own story that so many, especially in the United States, can relate to. How do you, as a producer and arranger, choose songs (along with Susan and her people) that understands this intrinsic narrative to her vocal narrative and respects it too. In short, how do you go into the a session with Susan and get that balance right?

There is an honesty about Susan’s voice that I love. She has an incredible work ethic and seemingly rises to any challenge. She truly appreciates her success and her fans and always wants to do everything she can to give them what they want. The Christmas album repertoire fell into place as we knew we wanted to cover a host of styles from the fireside, toasty “I’ll Home For Christmas”, to the Celtic tinged “I Believe In Father Christmas” to the stillness of “In The Bleak Mid Winter”. 
We tried to capture the innocence and beauty of Susan’s vocals and build musical arrangements around them to give the right kind of support. And we got to work with Johnny Mathis!

You took this summer producing the follow up to Susan Christmas album....

This new album is filled with songs of hope and inspiration, which are very close to Susan’s heart.  There are songs on the album that I never thought I would hear Susan sing and she performs them with joy and conviction. I actually think the album has tapped into an area of Susan’s voice that has previously been unexplored and I think the fans will find that very exciting. 


With your sparkly disco conductors baton you introduced Kylie and Westlife to the Proms audience – an immense achievement (the proms). I was there. It was absolutely amazing. What was that like?

Without doubt two of the best nights of my life. Standing in front of a 45,000+ strong capacity crowd in Hyde Park conducting for Kylie was a total joy – and in a strange way ticked the performance box that I started out wanting to realise. The BBC concert orchestra played fabulously and the audience lapped it up. Can I do it again please?

Please! Talking of Westlife, from the whispers I’ve heard already I’m incredibly excited about Marks new album and its interesting direction. What are you expecting from him as he embarks on his solo album? What have you heard?

I have heard a few songs and I can’t wait to hear more. I wish I could tell you more but all I can say is it’s going to be worth waiting for!

AWWW! Can't wait! Ok so Ella Henderson’s new album! I loved Ghost. Its just gone to number one. If you pick a colour of the pop rainbow what would best describe the mood and outlook of the finished productions you’ve worked on and heard so far...

Ella is the real deal.  She has an instantly recognisable voice and the songs I have heard from the album are first rate.  They are all quite different from each other which I always find exciting in an album…. So I guess it’s multi-coloured…

Okay so finally…I have to ask….you co-wrote and produced "Destiny" the theme song for the "Mission : Space" attraction at Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center. Which is OMG in my book. How did that come about? Your music is at DisneyWorld! DISNEY! Amazing!


This is without doubt my proudest achievement.  I was lucky enough to first visit WDW when I was 8 years old and it had a profound affect on me.  I remember leaving the Magic Kingdom the very first time, clutching a copy of the “Music from the Parks” LP (yes, I’m that old) that featured all of the songs from the attractions. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would one day write a song that plays in the park.
My then publisher, Metrophonic, was affiliated with Disney and they were asked to submit a song for the attraction. Brian Rawling (the MD) knew I was a huge fan and asked me to write a song. I went with something that I thought best conveyed the inclusive concept of the ride in a style that I felt would fit into the Disney catalogue…and Disney Productions loved it.  The song is still playing on a permanent loop in the attraction!

And I gotta ask...have you been there to check it out?

Yes – a few times now. You’ll find me loitering in the exit area with a Goofy grin, listening for just a bit too long for it to be considered normal behaviour.


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THE CLIFF MASTERSON INTERVIEW - PART ONE




Your underpinning grounding was started at the Royal Academy of Music with Nick Ingman....
I never actually planned to go the Academy. During my time at school I was writing and performing songs as a singer / songwriter, and that’s what I was going to be….  or so I thought. My first success as a songwriter came when I won the Kent Young Composer of the Year Award, first in ’86 and again in ’88 and from that time I put all of my efforts into performing, making demos, sending them to labels etc.  In the meantime, I was working in a local music shop. 
Music shop?
During that year, the music shop closed (not my fault, honest guv) and I never got the record deal!  What I did get was an invitation to be the first (and only) student on a brand new course at the RAM – the Commercial Music Course.  It transpired that one of judges for the Kent Young Composer Competition was Paul Patterson, head of composition at the Academy, had recommended me to Nick Ingman, founder of the new course.  I decided to take the leap and go to the RAM. The course was brand new and I was very much the guinea pig. It was a mixture of ‘straight’ composition, commercial composition, jazz and elements from the performance BMus course.  In addition to all things musical, we had weekly lectures from lawyers and music business professionals about the ‘real world’. The lectures were open to all (there was little point in me being the only one to benefit) and were soon full of students from other courses who could clearly see how incredibly useful these lectures were.
Sounds amazing! 
Another fantastic thing about the RAM was that I was able to write for various ensembles (Big Band, Symphony Orchestra, Choral groups etc) and actually hear the pieces performed.  This was absolutely vital as so many composers and arrangers do not have this testing ground to see what actually works.  As you know, something can ‘sound’ great on paper but the finer nuances of the voice or instrument are so much harder to get to grips with. For instance...is there enough breathing space in the vocal part?  Which of these 2 string voicings will work best?  There are so many questions that can be answered when you have the ability to audition arrangements, couple that with the business sense I learned and (almost most importantly) the people I met, the experience was the perfect springboard into a career in the industry.  The course has sadly since been removed from the syllabus.  I feel privileged to have been one of the few students to have graduated from the RAM with that particular degree.
From there what did you want to do immediately after graduating?
I was still keen to perform but decided that a career in arranging was something I should consider in tandem with my popstar desires!
 So did find yourself doing that first?
On leaving the Academy, Nick Ingman continued to mentor me.  I started doing transcription work and meetings on his behalf and after a while started picking up the odd job that he didn’t have time to do. The first session I arranged and conducted was for a double glazing company (ooh, the glamour!).  It was a jingle arranged for brass and strings recorded at Angel Studios in Islington.
Love it! Just up the road! How did you make the link up with publishers, labels and other artists? Was that an easy step to make?
I would attend orchestral sessions with Nick as often as I could.  It was a great way to understand studio etiquette and industry do’s and don’t. 
Which led to further production work?
One of the most prolific producers of the time was Nigel Lowis. He was having huge success with Dina Caroll and is a true gentleman.  I met with Nigel and subsequently started working as a session vocalist on various projects of the time including 911, Louise and Eternal.  He also gave me some of my first arranging opportunities.  It was through Nigel that I met John Reid (Nightcrawlers) with whom I wrote for a few years, which led to my first publishing deal.
Fabulous! To those budding composers producers and music arrangers graduating and wish to follow the same footsteps as yourself what would be your advice?
Be flexible.  Have the widest skill set possible.  Say ‘yes’ to everything (despite the fee).
Before we delve deep into the Cliff Masterson songbook, how do you feel the genre's of pop and of classical music bind together? As in…what do you think marks them as good bedfollows - ripe for re-arrangement (or rather borrowing from the dance lexicon remixing)?
Classical music is essentially pop music that is really old.  I believe that all music builds on the foundations and traditions of what has gone before.  I also believe that a good melody transcends the genre.  From very early on in pop, melodies have been ‘inspired’ by or simply lifted from classical works.  Elvis’ “It’s Now Or Never” is the same melody as “O Sole Mio” (also used in a famous Cornetto ad), Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic” is a re-working of Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor (Opus 28), and more recently William Orbit covered “Barber’s Adagio for Strings”.  At the end of the day our Western musical scale is home to 12 notes, only some of whom are ‘friends’ so there is a finite number of variations.  Good music, music that makes you feel something, will always be re-invented.
Your relationship with string arrangements in pop songs started off pretty early-on. In Private Number by 911 - i think was the first big ole pop song (& yes i did say we we were gonna step back in time). What was that experience like?
Back to Mr Lowis.  911 were flying high in the charts and wanted to record a cover version.  The song “Private Number” was selected and it was indeed my first pop string session back in 1998. I will always remember the horrific moment I climbed onto the podium to run through the chart with the strings and it sounded terrible…  The leader of the orchestra, Gavyn Wright, had organised a ‘baptism of fire’ for me and the entire string section started playing in a different key to the track (and each other).  Thanks Gavyn!
How did that experience working on a boyband album help define your work later when writing for primarily pop artists who wanted that bigger sound?
Well, working on a boyband album certainly help me decide against the artist career once and for all!
When I say bigger sound - let me explain what i mean... One key narrative than runs through your songbook whomever you work with, is a delicate sound yet that is also be big, polemic and emotional. A proper poptastic orchestral experience. Standing back do you think this is the case? Or do you think its more co-incidental...
I love melody.  I think it is THE most important part of music.  As someone once said, “you don’t whistle the words of a chorus”.  As a string arranger it is always my goal to add something to the song that wasn’t there before. That can be in the form of a hook, emotion, beauty, character or fragility and stillness.  Strings can add another dimension to a song if scored sensitively.
Your work with the likes of the Opera Babes, Ryandan, Il Divo, Bond, Vanessa Mae, Forte and most recently Susan Boyle and the London 2012 Olympic work, all expose this bigness in your arrangements and productions. Where do you think this originates from?
I am a great film score lover too.  If there is ever an opportunity to add something epic or filmic to an arrangement, I never pass up the chance.  Film music never fails to add a depth and excitement to the visuals it accompanies, I try to add that same excitement with the arrangements I write.
In the beginning when you found yourself working on pop projects how did you best embed and push this classical and orchestral "bigness" or rather "grandness" into the pop realm?
There is definitely a pattern of ‘bigness’ but I like to think of it as emotion that is sometimes (ok, often) big.  I remember many of my briefs from Nigel Lowis were “make the strings sound real”.  I suppose that is one reason I have always tried to give the strings enough to do (but not overcomplicate them) so there is no mistaking them for samples.
Your work with Steve Anderson really does highlight this (whether it be for RyanDan or more recently Kylie and Susan Boyle). This brilliant collaboration of course began some time ago - but critically on the Matt Dusk album Two Shots. What was it like working with Steve initially and secondly, what did you make of the Matt Dusk experience (which actually sounds like a fragrance - "The Matt Dusk Experience")?
The first session I did for Steve was actually on a Liberty X track, “Willing To Try” with the Matt Dusk collaboration soon afterwards.  Working with Steve was a joy from day one.  I think we are both quite similar (in fact there are some fairly remarkable similarities in our ‘journeys’ (I hate that word but can’t think of a better one) that often lead to ‘separated at birth’ type gags). One of the things about Steve that I think has helped to make him one of the most successful producers and arrangers that the UK music industry has ever seen, is the fact that he gives his creative team a strong direction and then enough room to do their thing.  By that I mean, he doesn’t over manage productions, he picks a team he trusts and gives them the freedom to create to the best of their ability.  It’s a creative freedom that many producers try to tame and in doing so, so often stifle the creativity of the individual.
What was that like with Matt?
Working with Matt was great fun.  He has a timeless voice that can compete with the best in the genre.  He also has excellent taste in Whiskey!
And his fragrance? 
If he were a fragrance, it would somehow capture the authenticity of dusty old 78s, much like his voice does :)
Both yourself and Steve of course worked on Kylie's seminal Abbey Road Sessions album. This truly was an epic moment when the classic remixed the pop. How did you approach her work and re-arrange and remix them into epic orchestral symphonies?
There are very few opportunities to embrace a fully orchestral re-working of songs in this way.  It was fascinating pulling apart and analysing some of the most well known pop songs in history.  I never really appreciated how clever some of the structures and chord sequences were – the writing on those PWL songs is incredible, almost Gibb like in the way such a hooky melody can sit so comfortably on top of a chord sequence that travels through some complex key changes and lifts.
Were you trepidatious at all? It is such a massive body of work and what you were doing hadn't really been done before. So many people are attached to the material. What where the biggest challenges with it?
Steve very much guided this project and having been working with these songs for a while, clearly had some really strong ideas arrangement-wise that he knew the fans would love.  I just breathed a little bit of life into them!
Where there any songs that made you go - "hmmmm, how on earth are we gonna reconstruct and convey this one"?


“Cant Get You Out Of My Head” was an interesting title to work on.  The original version is so minimalist in its construction, so finding a way to re-work the track with the orchestra was a challenge.  We picked up the tempo by a few BPM and used the staccato string ostinato to bring all of the excitement and pace to the track.  A few sweeping lines and transitional runs later and the arrangement came to life!

God yes. Another for me was the adaption of On A night Like This and how it transformed into a bond-type song. That was immense. You, Kylie, Steve and Colin Elliot. How do you conduct a re-arranged On A Night Like This that was re-imagined to be so intense? 
Colin did a great job on the score for the AR version, which I felt was even better than the original.  When we took this title to the Proms we decided to use it as the opening number.  Never missing an opportunity to add something extra (as Walt would say “plus it”) I added the intro – as you say, a Bond-esque setup for Kylie to make her big arrival!

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Part Two Soon! 

SPANISH POP SEASON - ALASKA! - SPANISH POP QUEEN AND LEGEND!



Trying to cover every release by Alaska is near impossible. As such forgive these general brush strokes. Suffice to say every Friday and Saturday night I hear this icon of Spanish pop music blast out from cars any time I am in Spain. Her voice is the soundtrack to Spain’s youth of the late 1970s and1980s as the country moved from regime to democracy. Indeed, even as Spain ventured towards its current status of a constitutional monarchy on paper the emotive mentality of the strict Franco social and cultural mores and codes remained intact. Thus Alaska and her crew of musicians however rebelled against this via their glorious pop-punk modus operandi that took notes from similar acts of the time like Blondie, Nina Hagen and Siouxsie and the Banshees. It can not be denied how important Alaska is. She is a central part of the counter-cultural Movida Madrileña movement in Spain. As the embittered country began to underpin its fragile future, artists from the Movida Madrileña translated their experiences of growing up under the regime and the complicated mess of the transition period. They formed the voice the new liberated Spain that embraced the maligned and the queer, desired freedom, demanded rights, celebrated new art and wanted nothing of the social or political mainstream. 

It also can not be understated how vital and outspoken Alaska was and continues to be about gay rights. Ever since her Kaka De Luxe days of the 1970s Alaska has constantly demanded equality for gay and lesbians despite the harsh Vagrancy Laws that criminalized homosexuality, and was often utilised by police especially against political dissenters. Alaska as an activist became pivotal through her campaigning and music to change attitudes and strengthen the gay rights movement in Spain and Alaska’s involvement in La Movida is responsible for Spain’s highly tolerant stance on homosexuality. In this sense, one could say she is Spain’s supreme gay idol.

Everything from movies, musicals to PhD’s have been written on Alaska and her compatriots so it would be difficult to quite capture how significant she is to a whole generation of Spaniards. So I’ll just to point towards to some of my hits of hers. And, gosh she’s released some amazing pop records in her time in various bands. Take a Blondie song from 1978, add some Italo-pop, a little Ramones, a massive amount of disco and throw in dashes of Bobby O, Nina Hagen, David Bowie, Divine, Shiela B & The Devotions and very early S.A.W you’ll get the sound of an Alaska record.

After leaving the punk outfit Kaka De Luxe, a new band was formed of Alaska, Carlos Berlanga, Nacho Canut, Ana Curra and Eduardo Benavente to create Alaska y Los Pegamoides. They released a series of singles and E.P’s that are best described as a super-trooper gulp of disco-punk, a point most accented by their single Bailando. In amongst many of their delicious ditties from this era was one of my favourite tracks Otra Dimension. It sounds like an early Strawberry Switchblade demo crossed with David Bowie and Dusty Springfield. Although most of their work is in Spanish check out their English version of Redrum. It exposes just how tight their whip-lash productions are as they wrap around their barbed lyrics. They also re-recorded their disco hit Bailando which re-emerged as the ultra-camp Dancing could’ve easily been blasted out in Studio 54.

Just as The Tourists re-materialized as The Eurythmics, Alaska y Dinarama came forth from the embers of Alaska y Pegamoids only sans the rocky guitars. The deeply electronic Crisis was their first single released in 1983 however it was pretty much unnoticed on its release primarily down to the continuing success of Bailando. Or, perhaps its fascinating lyrics contained in the delightful refrain of “vice, drugs, Sodom and gomorrah, War, missiles bombs and torpedoes” may have had impact on its promotion. Still, Crisis sounds like something like a song written by Prince for a 1986 Janet Jackson album. It is one of my favourites. Its subject matter of exploitation, fraud and politicians are sadly relatable today as they were it was first wrote. Crisis paved the way for their first album Canciones Profanas which included catchy new wave disco-lite tracks like Club De Egipcios, Kali and Lineas Rectas. However it was Perlas Ensangrentadas that sparkled like a shooting star and became a sing-a-long favourite at concerts which guaranteed it emerging as their second single. Perlas Ensangrentadas highlighted the general euro-post-pop-punk sound that Alaska and her team were heading towards for the rest of the 1980s. It was the fourth single that ultimately secured the albums success and strengthened their position in the clubs of Madrid but also teenage bedrooms of Spain. Their stompy single Rey Del Glam was a massive airkiss from the team to David Bowie but also Marc Bolan. The singled roared through the pop radio stations of Spain, penetrated itself deep in the hearts of Spanish clubland and offered the band bright exposure down paths, catwalks and roads not strutted or graced beforehand. If recorded in English the song could’ve easily taken the band to the heights of Top Of The Pops but the band were already preparing themselves for the follow-up: the mighty and legendary Deseo Carnal.

Produced by Nick Patrick (Camy Todorow, Gina Lamour), their second album was huge. Sounding like a cross between a sparkly Dead Or Alive album, Depeche Mode, Divine, and New Order, Deseo Carnal was the first modern pop album Spain had been waiting for. The sales were off the roof. Those teenagers who’d expressed an admiration for their first album found themselves addressed to on the bands second as each track emerged as emblazoned coming-out anthem. Underscored with supreme production levels comparable to Trevor Horn’s work with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Deseo Carnal ravished the listener with sumptuous orchestral strings, italo-disco baselines and epic crescendos trumpeted by thick wads of bombastic horns. Cómo pudiste hacerme esto a mí, the first single, proves the point perfectly. Written by Berlanga and Canut, it features a refined electro baseline that is underscored with a dramatic string section which sounds as mighty as the classical piece Rise of The Valkyries.

The second single, Ni Tu Ni Nadie, swallowed up any doubters or haters the band may have had. Recalling some of their rocky stompy efforts of her earlier work, Alaska struts out the party anthem Ni Tu Ni Nadie like her life depended on it. The gloriously lush strings pad out the entire song like a beautiful crown on a feathered Las Vegas showgirl. The song also contains one of the best middle-eights to come out Spain as it sounds like one of those amazing royal fanfares that score the Disney films that then additionally feeds into a mighty key change at the end which takes the song to euphoric elation and crescendo. Ni Tu Ni Nadie is amazing. 

The lead single from their 3rd album A Quien Le Importa is a stunning hybrid of I Will Survive and You Spin Me Around (Like A Record) and seriously needs to be heard to be believed. It has emerged as one of the biggest disco anthems of not just Spain but also Latin America. Queen of pop Thalia covered the song in 2002 and enjoyed huge success with her version taking it to the Billboard Latin top ten charts. Whether sung by Raphael, Rita Pavone, drag queens, famous footballers or on popstar/idol type shows the song has embedded itself within the songbook of modern Spain. Walk around Chueca and you'll even find a bar called A Quien Le Importa (located on Calle Horteleza if you wanna track it down). In 1989 the band released their final album together as Alaska y Dinarama titled Fan Fatal with the lead single being Mi Novio Es Un Zombi which pretty much translates as My Boyfriend Is A Zombie. Much of Fan Fatal sounds like a Pete Hammond remix album of a lost The Flirts album with touches of Soft Cell and Eurythmics. 


Alaska and Nacho Canut formed Fangoria 18 months later launching themselves with the song Hagamos Algo Superficial Y Vulgar, followed by En Mi Prison. The album Salto Mortal sounded like a very well decorated Pet Shop Boys album remixed by Neneh Cherry's producers & included touches of Dee-lite. Fangoria then released a series of E.P's known as the Vulcan collection that were eventually compiled together in one CD package issued in 2003. In 1999 the band released their second album Una Temporada En El Infierno with the ethereal electronic Electricistas flourishing on the radio as the flag-bearer for the album. The album also proved to be one of Fangoria's biggest with the ambient second single Mi Odio Cuando Miento highlighting the overall versatility of the band. Borrowing a title from the Bette Davis film All About Eve, Fangoria immediately released a follow-up to their highly popular 2001 album in the form of Naturaleza Muerta. Produced entirely by Carlos Jean, I love the club-disco friendly album. Beefy baselines are coupled airtight lyrics and swooping melodies the bombastic pop album is one of their best releases for the inclusion of No Se Que Me Das alone. Right after the release of Naturaleza Muerta the band put out Arquitectura Efímera which threw in a few more guitars layered over their distinctive synth-pop wall of sound. 



One of my favourite songs from the album Retorciendo Palabras that eventually became a single and received the duet treatment when Fangoria performed it live with Marta Sanchez. The song itself went to no.1 selling well for a number weeks emerging as one of their most successful singles during the naughties. The second single Miro la vida pasar was remixed by Marc Almond and became a huge club hit in the dancefloors of Madrid, Barcelona and Ibiza securing even further sales for Fangoria who saw the album selling over 80.000 copies in Spain alone. 


El Extrano Viaje saw the band continue right where they'd left off with Arquitectura Efímera with irresistible catchy pop melodies and bouncy lyrics. This release however featured somewhat more of a glam-rocky-sound perhaps down to the appearance of Stefan Olsdal (Placebo). The singles Criticar por criticar, Ni contigo ni sin ti and El cementerio de mis sueños all soared up into the higher echelons of the Spanish charts and made sure the parent album sold over 100.000 in Spain and Mexico. With the immense success of their live album Viven, the band returned to the studio not before releasing a series of re-issues and EP's (such as Entre Punta Cana y Montecarlo). 



This time Nacho and Alaska headed to Dean Street Studios London to embark on what was to become Absolutamente - their next album. Produced by Neal X and Tony James of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, the single Mas es Mas highlighted the pure drama of the record and the band themselves. It went straight to number 1 in Spain and 4 in Mexico with a special re-issue of the album that included the legend that was Sara Montiel. 


Soon after Absolutamente, Fangoria issued an amazing anthology collection called El paso trascendental del vodevil a la astracanada! This included pretty much everything Alaska had ever released with rarities and unreleased gems available on the super deluxe edition. The collection also received two single releases in the form of re-worked versions of Ni Tu Ni Nadie and A Quien Le Importa. Fangoria returned to the studio in 2012 not before issuing another live project called Operacion Vodevil which saw the record company using a new version of Bailando to underscore and promote the live album. Recorded in Madrid, Granada, Los Angeles, Mexico and London their seventh album, Cautricromia, was deliciously sliced into four parts: Pop, Rock, Electro and Gothic with each section co-produced by separate teams La Casa Azul (pop), Sigue Sigue Sputnik (rock), Los Pilotos (electro) and Jon Klein of Specimen (Gothic). If you can find it, I highly recommend tracking down the re-release Policromia purely for The Sound of Arrows remix available on Cd2 of the limited edition pressing. 


As already stated, I can't underestimate the importance of Alaska to modern Spain and her cultural position within the social narrative written after its time as a dictatorship. Moreover, she constantly made sure her output was always entrenched in sublime pop melodies. Her albums were always played by those outside of the tribe but also eventually emerged as anthems of the tribe itself. She wrote and sung for the discos of Madrid and Barcelona but also the isolated teenager in the remote countryside hills of Asturias and Andalucia. She encompassed and included all. She always beats her drum for the marginalised and oppressed with her discography mapping out endless hymns for parties and discos of modern Spain. Pick any album, and you're guaranteed to find yourself boombox classic. Alaska, a Spanish pop legend, gracias por la musica!


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The Definitive Introductory Ten Track Alaska MixTape
(Must-have songs to download by Alaska)
Bailando
Nu Ti Ni Nadie
A Quien Le Importa
Como Pudiste Hacerme Esto A Mi?
Mas es Mas
Electricistas
Retorciendo Palabras
Dramas Y Comedias
Un Hombre De Verdad

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SPANISH POP SEASON - EDURNE!


Edurne hails from Madrid and came to the attention of the Spanish public as a solo star when she took part in the fourth series of the Spanish version of Pop Idol/Fame Academy. Although Operación Triunfo usually "discovered" and provided a strong launch-pad for many, Edurne had already two albums and a few tours under her belt before entering the TV competition and cutting a deal with Sony. Indeed, some may remember her actual entrance into pop world was as the teeniebopper in the group Trastos. Just as I didn't focus on Marta's years in Olé Olé, attention here lies squarely on Edurne - not Trastos. Edurne has established herself as one of Spain's central pop forces, releasing one bombastic album after another. Whenever she's had a knock-back she's picked herself up, dusted herself down and sparkled brighter than before. Some have described her as Spain's very own Britney Spears, but I wouldn't draw such comparisons. Interestingly however she has shared similar producers as the American pop queen and finds herself in a very fascinating place career-wise after the release of her last album. 


Edurne’s self-titled debut album with Sony featured songs written and produced by British and Scandinavian pop authors, then translated into Spanish. These included submissions by Tord Bäckström, Bengt Girell, Jan Nilsson, Adam Alvermark, Andreas Karlegard, Gustav Efraimsson, Kim-Lian, Anders Bagge, Peer Åström, Marcella Detroit, Alex Parks,  Robert Habolin, Niklas Jarl, Savan Kotecha and David Stenmarck. With the international feel of the album, comparisons were drawn to recent releases by Britney Spears and the album not only went Gold but secured a top 3 position in the Spanish charts. The lead single Despierta (co-written by Gustav Efraimsson of Sweden) also charted well in the southern European radio charts, especially in Greece and Italy. Interestingly, Marta Sanchez would record a Efraimsson song, Get Together, some years later.

Such was the success of the first album that Edurne returned to the studio to produce Ilusion, released a year after the debut. It is very much an extension of her first, understandable considering she teamed-up with her previous executive producers Pleeth & Stern for a number of the sessions. Ilusion is one of my favourite albums by Edurne. Not only is it incredibly cohesive but the album's credits bulge with Swedish songwriters. One could even say Ilusion was one of the best scandipop albums of 2007 to be released outside of Sweden. Writers included George Nakas, Victoria Horn, Klas Wahl, Fredrik Thomander, Anders Wikstrom, Tobias Gustavvsson, Gustav Efraimmsson, Mia Bergstrom, Lisa Lindebergh, Johan Bobak, Hanne Sorvaag, Harry Sommerdahl, Cutfather, Jay Jay, Fredrik Larsson, Johan Fransson, Tim Larsson, Tobias Lundgren, Jesper Jakobson, Patrik Ohlsson, George Samuelsson, Fredrik Rogberg, Sofia Bernson and Jorgen Elloffson. Oh and Phil Thornalley of Torn fame. In many ways her first two albums are perfect examples of Swedish pop music, only sung in Spanish. With its delicious electro pop beats, the lead single Ven Por Mi powered through the Spanish charts sounding like something from Kylie’s Fever album and the 1980s. This despite the fact the song itself had already been released four years earlier as Come With Me by the Flemish singer Sita.


Perhaps as a consequence to its stellar songwriting/production roster, many of the songs from the album could’ve been singles for Edurne. It is overbundled with killer pop tracks. Los Angeles Tambien Pecan sounds a little like Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Monrose. Its English title is wonderfully called Venus In Your Hand. Another stand-out song is Algo Cambió which had previously been released by MYNT as Still Not Sorry three years before. I much prefer the MYNT original but Edurne gives it good try. Si Me Dejas En Paz is a bombastic slice of Schlager-pop, which is understandable considering the original demo was written by Sofia Bernston as a Melodifestivalen attempt that never came to fruition. One of the slower moments on Ilusion is the album closer Lo Que Siente and is another discreet Swedish cover, this time co-written by the mighty Jorgen Elofsson. Initially released by Bellefire as Perfect Bliss in 2001, Edurne’s version is beautiful, tender and dreamy. As was her cover of Norway's Maria Arrendondo’s Brief and Beautiful (renamed on Ilusion as Fue Para Los Dos) which eventually became the final second single from Ilusion. Which is a shame as songs like No Mirar Atras, Sin Control and Hoy Voy A Estallar screamed out to be released.


While it is clear that Edurne’s second album consisted of quite a few Swedish covers, her follow-up would be nothing but covers. Premiere saw Edurne acknowledge her career in musicals, a path that she’d followed after the immense success she’d experienced during a stint as Sandy in the Spanish run of Grease. There were interesting moments but the release was a set-back for Edurne. The album went to no. 39 and dropped out of the charts a week or so later. While it is sweet, it's not a highly recommended listen. I say that with a massively heavy heart as the first two Edurne albums were such great and sturdy pop productions. Best to overlook it.

It would take two years until Edurne returned to the studio, but when she did it was with an almighty bang. Produced by Oscar Claval, who’d produced some of Edurne’s strongest songs from her first two albums, Nueva Piel was a proper comeback. The first single Soy Como Soy (which translates as I am what I am) was written by Steve Anderson (Kylie Minogue’s Confide In Me and her music director). With its uplifting emancipatory lyrics the song became a massive radio hit and firm club favourite in the discos of Madrid, Barcelona, Ibiza and the Costa Del Sol. Soy Como Soy is an electronic pulsating anthem full of fire – the sort of energy that had fuelled her first single Despierta. It would later be covered by the British girlband Ultra Girls who released it as Girl Will Be Girls.

Nueva Piel remains to be her best album to date. Indeed, I said as much when it was first released (DSTP’s huge review). Its highlights range from Demasiados Besos by Kid Crazy and Sam McCarthy, which sounds like something from Holly Valance’s second album and the Dr.Who Theme, to Te Menti by Patric Sarin (Margaret Berger) which sounds very much like Samantha. One of my favourite tracks was the summery Siempre Sale El Sol by Australian writers Michael Szumowski and Josh Pyke. Michael Szumowski, from the band Indecent Obsession, of course produced Bardot's Poison and Josh Pyke has had massive success in Australia with The Lighthouse Song. Like her first two studio albums, Nueva Piel inevitably included discreet covers that her A&R team loved to select, such as the beautiful cover Lo Siento, Culpable originally by German singer Christine Nouri and Seremos dos o será un adios originally by Susannah Kay. However compared to her three previous albums, which were festooned with covers, this release contains relatively few. Other worthy mentions are the stunning mid-tempo schlagertastic Alguien Como Tú (co-written by Daniel Volpe, Eric Palmqvist and Thomas Lipp) and No Vuelvas A Mí which was written by Par Westerlund and Jorgen Elofsson.


By carving out her position as one of Spains high priestesses of Pop and dance, it was clear Nueva Piel restored Edurne as a name to be reckoned with on the radio charts, establishing a sound crossed between Kylie and Agnes Carlsson of Sweden. She would venture further into the dancefloor realm once album promotion for Nueva Piel wrapped-up by working with DJ Brian Cross on the club track More Than A Lover. So, it seemed unusual when she released her latest album Climax last year, which was a clear attempt to somehow jump on the addictive rock-pop sound of Pink. Indeed, Michael Busbee, who wrote Pink’s smash hit Try, eventually ended up writing a number of songs on the album that its producers Pablo Navarro and Simon Nordberg had textured with a guitar-pop sound, popular in the heady days of Ashley Simpson. However the problem with Climax was that the rocky feel didn’t sit well with Edurne’s vocals. Most of the songs were devoid of quality, while the vocal production was an absolute mess. It is difficult to hear Edurne screech through the album as she tries to rock out like she’s some Guns and Roses tribute act. Unfortunately she not only howls but growls. The rock production and direction of the album did not suit Edurne’s voice in any way, shape or form. 


Despite the mess there are some redeemable moments. The first is written by the Swedish team Dubbelman, Niklas Edberger and Marriette Hansson, who many will know as the popstar Maryjet who recently worked with Ace Wilder. The song in question is Viernes (originally titled Weekend) and seemingly recorded for Marriettes debut album (to hear more from Mariette check out Scandipop here). The second is Me Rompiste El Corazon, co-written by the great singer Marlene (Indian Summer, Bon Voyage, Stay Awake). Lastly, Finish Line by Charlie Mason, who of course wrote the amazing Eurovison winner song of 2014 Rise Like A Phoenix, and Jonas Thander (Zazou, Hansam, Sharon Doorson). Finish Line is the album's best track. The moment the listener hears the opening lyrics by Mason “shivering inside a private December….then the warrior me awoke rising like a phoenix from the smoke”, you know you’re strapped into a ride of an anthem. Sadly, like all the songs on the album, the overlaid rock production is messy and Edurne fails to convey the strength of Masons lyrics. What is key about Finish Line is that such is the level of quality of the song, it survives intact even despite the exec producers' rock antics. This is purely down to its composers. Charlie Mason's lyrics bounce out like one of those amazing Melodifestivalen classics that ended-up becoming a winning Eurovision song for Sweden. Moreover, the tempo and Jonas Thander's melody's highs and lows combined with Charlie’s pentameter reveal it as a marathon of a song. As such it has the kind of electric energy that any sporting event could use as its anthem. A great pop song that shakes off the attempt to laden the track down with messy drums and guitars. How can you deny the lyrics “cutting down through the noise, a familiar voice from the finish line telling me to try!”. Not to forget the glorious crescendo of music which is wrapped around Mason's stunning uplifting couplet “If I’m humbled, If I stumble. Won’t give up again”. Amazing.

Despite those three tracks, on the whole Climax was a complete and utter misfire in A&R and management and it consequently failed to ignite the Spanish charts. The lead single Pretty Boy bombed as well. While it attempts to repeat and convey the same message of Shania Twain's epic hit That Don’t Impress Me Much, the lyrics are offensive and appear to attack boys who wear make-up, eye-liner and “girlie-jeans”. Oh yes. Edurne thinks she’s ever so gritty as she snarls out the line “you get mistaken for a girl” and “you’ve never kissed a girl, you’re just a big talker”. It gets worse. The subject of her song is not only called “prissy” but is chastised for having "perfect little hands that are always kept nice” and bullied for being a "high fashion know-it-all” whose “favourite phrase is "OMG, that’s so Hot" and wears women’s clothes. Pretty awful. 

Now I’m sure offence was not intended but the blunt insults and barbs remain. Interestingly, on the Itunes edition Sony Records decided to include a Spanish version as a bonus track that was re-titled Artificial and which omitted all pretty offensive lyrics. Instead the subject was simply a very superficial and narcissist object of affection. Gone were the sly attacks on a boy who liked to wear girlie clothes, make-up and was interested in fashion. Instead the Spanish version became a carbon copy of Twain’s Don’t Impress Me Much and Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain. Unfortunately though, the better Spanish lyrics do not save the song itself. 

Putting aside the three good songs, Climax was nothing other than a bold move for Edurne and her label. Sadly, a poorly executed one. Spain is a highly competitive pop arena and with Nueva Piel it looked like she had carved out a niche for herself and a successful one too. The misplaced rock production seems to have taken out the steam and direction of Edurne’s development as a pop artist. She changed management in the middle of Climax's release but I’m not sure this will essentially resolve the problems caused by the album. While her fellow Operacion Triunfo contestants such as David Bisbal, Rosa Lopez, Bustamante, Nuria Fergo, Chenoa, Soraya, Gisela, Natalia, Ainhoa, and Veronica Romeo have all developed their sounds, matured and progressed as pop acts, Edurne’s Climax could’ve been released years before her debut album. 

Since the release of Climax Edurne has been pushing herself once again on TV reality shows and featured with Olly Murs on a iTunes bonus track, singing the Spanish lyrics to Hand On Heart. As a big Edurne fan, I can’t wait to see her next move. For sure, Climax was disappointing but overall her body of work reveals outstanding pop music that has utilized some of the best songwriters the US, Scandinavia and the UK have to offer. It would be awesome to see Edurne pick up where she left off with Nueva Piel and sing the songs of Gustav Effraimson, Steve Anderson, Tina Harris, Fredrik Thomander, Sofia Bernston, Savan Kotecha , Par Westerlund, Cutfather and Johan Boback. Ultimately, Edurne has consistently released some of the best European pop in Spain from her very first album to her fourth (probably best to avoid the third and fifth albums). I hope she once again teams up with those writers and producers who not only gave her radio hits and pop anthems but also pushed Edurne in the right direction. All eyes on Edurne! Her future is in her hands now. 



***
The Definitive Introductory Ten Track Edurne MixTape
(Must-have songs to download by Edurne)
Soy Como Soy
Los Angeles Tambien Pecan
Algo Cambio
Sin Control
Siempre Sale El Sol
Ojos Que No Ven
Despierta
Entre El Alma y La Piel
Alquien Como Tu

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