The headlines that Taylor Swift has generated for her latest album, Midnights and her next tour have been staggering. 1.5 million units sold in its first week on sale, broken Spotify records for streams, and 10 songs in the top 10 singles chart. When tickets for her 2023 concerts went on sale, it not only broke the hearts of fans left out of getting their hands on one but also broke Ticketmaster.
Music wise, first single “Anti-Hero” is a deep look at Swift’s own insecurities where she claims, “I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror” over a mid-tempo pop beat. Once again working with Jack Antonoff in the producer chair, Swift sings with Lana Del Rey on “Snow on the Beach”. Their voices intertwine beautifully on the chorus on a track about lovers falling in love at the same time. Shimmering synths flow through “Bejeweled” before the sumptuous atmosphere of “Labryinth” that sees the protagonist fall in love after a hard break up, “I thought the plane was goin’ down/How’d you turn it right around?”
The colour “Maroon” runs through a relationship like “rust that grew between telephones” on the moody electronic track. “Karma” recalls early noughties indie rock/electronic act CSS before the album closes with the bubbling synths of “Mastermind” where childhood trauma turns the protagonist into a scheming genius. A few tracks lack some of Swift’s clever wordplay and could have been sung by anyone. But far more often than not, Taylor Swift delivers a great pop songs on Midnights.
Released two years after they disbanded, Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits went into the top 5 in both the US and UK. It breaks many fundamental rules of compiling a greatest hits album – it’s not in chronological order, it substitutes live versions of hit songs, and it leaves off several important tracks. Somehow this collection makes it all work. The aforementioned live versions chosen here are all exceptional. “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” is warmer than its studio version and both “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” and #1 single “Bridge Over Troubled Water” are showstoppers featuring Art Garfunkel’s soaring vocals.
Two other US #1 singles appear, the duo’s first hit “The Sound of Silence” and the “coo coo ca choo” of “Mrs. Robinson” from The Graduate OST. Besides the title track, all the other hits of Bridge Over Troubled Water appear with the upbeat folk rock of “Cecilia” closing out the set. While the collection is missing key tracks like “The Dangling Conversation”, “A Hazy Shade of Winter”, and “The Only Living Boy in New York” – what is included here is some of the best folk rock of the 60s and early 70s. While other collections gather more of the duo’s essential tracks, the enduring popularity of this album made it a must for inclusion on Simon & Garfunkel: The Complete Albums Collection.
The last Simon & Garfunkel studio album came out in 1970, just under six years after their debut. Once again working with producer Roy Halee, the album starts off with the iconic title track. A dramatic opening sounds almost like a Christmas carol in its hymn like devotion. Art Garfunkel’s performance soars as strings and cymbals crashing come up to meet him. This is pop music at its highest form.
Beyond the title track, the next two songs were also singles. “El Condo Pasa (If I Could)” has a folky, Spanish feel that hit #1 in several countries. A memorable drumbeat opens “Cecilia”. The infectious track will eventually end up on many party playlists and remains one of the duo’s most popular songs. At the opposite end of the spectrum, “The Boxer” has a softer drumbeat where Paul Simon sings “lie la lie”, that acts as a hook but was originally in the song as filler. The epic track follows the story of a boy who leaves home, “seeking out the poorer quarters, where the ragged people go” before becoming the boxer.
“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” came about when Garfunkel asked to have a song written about the famous architect. A laid-back tune that can double as an allusion to Garfunkel having studied to be an architect in his earlier days. One of the duo’s most popular album tracks appears on the second half of the album, “The Only Living Boy in New York” is one of the most emotionally charged songs in the catalogue. Simon sings “Tom, get your plane right on time/I know your part’ll go fine”, a direct comment that Garfunkel was off filming a movie in Mexico, leaving Simon behind in NY. The use of an echo chamber for their voices takes the song to a celestial level. The album winds down with a live cover of “Wake Up Little Susie” before finishing with just Simon and his guitar singing, “Song for the Asking”
The debate rages on as to which the critics think is their masterpiece, this or 1968’s Bookends. The public voted with their wallets. With four of their most well-known songs, Simon and Garfunkel went out with a bang as Bridge Over Troubled Waters would go on to be the duo’s most popular album with approximately 25 million units sold. A truly great album that deserves a spot in every record collection.
For their seventh studio album, the three members of Interpol enlisted legendary producer Flood with Alan Moulder to help sculpt the album. “Toni” is both the first track and first single from the album. A moody piece of piano driven music where Paul Banks sings that “the aim is now perfection always”. Drummer Sam Fogarino shines on both “Into the Night” and “Renegade Hearts” which also adds female vocals to great effect.
Songs such as “Fables” are more sparse sounding before a bigger voice emerges in the chorus. Several of the songs are built around a Daniel Kessler guitar riff such as the cinematic “Big Shot City” and “Gran Hotel” where Banks sing about the streets of Cozumel. It’s hard to discern what Flood added to the process as the album sounds like Interpol. The Other Side of Make-Believe sticks to mostly stylized midtempo sounds and lacks a fierce bite that would add much needed passion to the recording.
The third Madonna album released in June 1986 cemented her as an 80s superstar, right up there with Prince and Michael Jackson. True Blue contained 5 hit singles and went to number one across the world. A staggering achievement for the still 27-year-old who was fresh into a marriage to actor Sean Penn. Even with all the tabloid headlines and endless distractions, the determined popstar co-wrote and produced every track on the album along with Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard.
True Blue opens with the unmistakable string arrangement of “Papa Don’t Preach”. The controversial song about a woman opening up to her dad and deciding what she wants to do with an unplanned pregnancy regardless of what others think. The tumbling drums of “Open Your Heart” open up the infectious dance pop track. Ballad “Live to Tell” from the Sean Penn movie At Close Range was the album’s opening single and went to #1 in several countries. A touching vocal performance is most effective in the bridge when the music fades and Madonna’s voice comes back in.
The title track is an upbeat 50sish pop track is a lighthearted romp that sees Madonna happily sing, “I searched the whole world for someone like you”. The #3 US single was sadly left off the Immaculate Collection hits collection released a few years later. Final single, “La Isla Bonita” started as an instrumental for Michael Jackson that was turned down before Madonna turned it into a Latin flavoured, slightly melancholic track that recalls time spent on the tropical paradise of San Pedro.
What makes True Blue a step up from Like a Virgin is the quality of its album tracks. Songs like “Where’s the Party” and “Jimmy Jimmy” are not such a drastic departure from the more famous singles. These songs are as good as pop music gets in the 1980s and continued Madonna’s successful run of singles.