Product DetailsNot a re-issue of Minaj’s disappointing but hugely successful debut offering ‘Pink Friday’ with a few added new tracks and remixes as the title suggests but a brand new album with 19 tracks and no interludes; 22 on the obligatory ‘deluxe’ version. The second red herring is that Nicki’s alter ego and referred to in the album’s title, Roman, is almost completely absent in his revenge. The two lead singles ‘Roman In Moscow’ (oddly not included, not even on the digital deluxe) and ‘Stupid Hoe’ (one of the best things here) do feature the Roman persona but somewhere along the line he (Nicki has suggested that Roman is in fact a bitchy gay man but that depends on which publication she’s talking to and Roman’s ‘gayness’ certainly isn’t evident in his lyrical content) gets lost under the massive weight of this odd, confusing mess of an album which in itself suffers from a severe identity crisis.

The album is sequenced by genre with the first being what’s best described as hardcore, mix-tape Nicki and probably the most representative of the Roman character. This abruptly switches to what can only be described as euro-cheese rave, predominantly produced by Lady Gaga’s original main-man, RedOne, and closes with a run of Katy Perry, Rhianna (at her blandest I must stress) and Jessie J type American-produced power pop tracks which are to be heard all over mainstream radio and media at the moment. This could be a fascinating collection and really show what Minaj can come up with working with such diverse sonic components in the hands of hugely prolific song writers and producers. Instead this degree of genre shifting feels so cynical and insincere and with the exception of a handful of tracks (including the completely ludicrous and amazing ‘Starships’) there are very few decent songs here.

In the first and most successful third of the album rap Nicki explores nothing new lyrically but in the aggressively buzzing ‘Come On a Cone’ she really does do something quite exciting. Towards the end of the track she starts singing (not rapping it as she does earlier in the track) ‘Ooh, my dick in your face’ over and over in a sweet, soulful coo, it’s as if she’s both taking the piss out of the Nicki persona and also the ridiculousness of the current state of chart music. It’s a funny and sharp track and unlike the majority of the album sets Nicki apart from her contemporaries as an artist with something to say, however ridiculous. The following track ‘I Am Your Leader’ is another great diss track with a lyrical pay off referring again to a particular male body part.

So we go from this to the ‘let’s take pills and dance’ Aqua/The Vengaboys/Whigfield (no really) section which is RedOne extending ‘Starships’ over 4 tracks with little deviation and even less imagination. There is some astoundingly ugly, uninspired music here, some of the most disposable I’ve heard in years. I hope she isn’t a sign of something bigger that’s yet to come in mainstream pop. Missy Elliott was one of the first hip hop and rap artists to explore house and dance music and incorporate it into her work in 2001 but you always knew that along with producer and musical soul mate Timbaland, Elliott knew her references and was paying homage to a genre whilst also wanting to push r n b and hip hop as far as she could sonically with often awe-inspiring results. With Minaj you get the feeling that she wanted to hire the producer who made Lady Gaga a superstar to get her ‘Barbs’ to become as obsessed about her as the ‘Monsters’ are about Gaga and to continue expanding the brand (which is how she refers to herself on the album) as much as possible regardless of any compromise that’s been made to the actual music itself and how Minaj portrayed herself 18 months ago.

I hope that Nicki Minaj can figure out who she is and just doesn’t get replaced by the next Minaj (Rita Ora?). She can make a massive impression and initially was an exciting new presence in a market where successful female rappers had all but disappeared; Missy Elliott for example hasn’t had a new album out in 7 years.

Many loved Minaj’s early mixtapes and guest raps (Trey Songz ‘Bottoms Up’ and Kayne West’s ‘Monster’ are just 2 examples where she out shines the actual artist) but pop stars are appearing bigger, bolder and faster than ever before (Lana Del Rey, Gaga, Adele ; already all of them considered to be ‘icons’ after a maximum of 2 albums) and I hope that Nicki is as focused on her musical output and where this may lead 4 albums down the line as she is on the marketing of her first perfume, out later this year.

So she’s definitely made it then, at least for now.


Product DetailsLet’s just start this with a little bit of background.  By the mid-70s Ian Matthews had been a member of Fairport Convention, had a UK number 1 with a Joni Mitchell cover and then disappeared from the UK mainstream scene.  The name, and the odd single, could still be heard occasionally in the background as punk and new wave barged and elbowed everything else out of the way but you had to be listening carefully.  So I listened carefully in 1979 and I heard “Gimme an Inch Girl”, an Ian Matthews cover of a Robert Palmer song which got a bit of radio play but did nothing chartwise.

During the summer of the following year I was visiting the first love of my life in that wicked London place and I had a bit of time to kill on the way home.  The first Virgin megastore had just opened at Marble Arch and that had to be worth a look; there were so many records I didn’t know where to start.

The only album I picked up that day was a cut-out import copy (on blue vinyl) of “Stealing Home” by Ian Matthews.  I recognised the single “Gimme an Inch Girl” and thought it was worth a couple of quid for that even if everything else was unlistenable, which was pretty unlikely.  I never thought for a second that it would be an album I would love instantly and forever; the first time I listened to “Stealing Home” from beginning to end was a musical epiphany.

The album was recorded in Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire but was aimed squarely at the American market; you can hear it in the lyrics and the arrangements and you can see it in the sleeve design.  There wasn’t a chance that it would sell significant amounts in the UK in the aftermath of punk, but that was never the objective.  An album with great session players, tasteful (bordering on minimal) FM radio-friendly arrangements and lyrics dealing with American themes was never a commercial proposition in post-punk UK; throw in a singer with a plaintive high tenor voice and, in 1978, USA becomes the target market.

Ian Matthews didn’t really have a reputation as a great songwriter at the time, but he was already known as an interesting interpreter of other people’s songs.  He had already scored a UK No.1 in 1970 with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and had a stab at Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” which, unbelievably, made no impact on the charts.  Nothing I’d heard before prepared me for the beauty of “Stealing Home”.

The album opens with the 1 track I’d already heard, “Gimme an Inch Girl”, which sounded better on my hi-fi than on the radio (no FM in 1979), so I knew I was on to a winner straight away.  There isn’t a track on the album that I don’t love, even now.  I have to be honest and admit that I’m fairly partial to a melancholy song and this album is full of them.

I admit that I didn’t realise in 1979 that the theme running through the album was the failure of the American dream (and it should have been obvious because I loved “American Graffiti” and “The Last Picture Show”).  Ian Matthews picked out songs about the party set, car fanatics and sports groupies to form the backbone of this album.  It’s a melancholy album because it looks back at the unfulfilled promise of American lives in the same way that Bob Seger did with songs like “Hollywood Nights” and “Night Moves” and Jackson Browne did with “The Pretender”.

Don’t Hang Up your Dancing Shoes” is a Terry Boylan song about an attempt to persuade the Homecoming Queen to take one last chance a former beau and sets the tone for the rest of the album, musically and lyrically.  “King of the Night” is a poignant ballad written by Jeffrey Comanor (a cult figure at the time who also collaborated with Shel Silverstein on the Dr Hook song “Makin’ it Natural”), which focuses on the plight of the forgotten former street racer and is followed by Matthews’ funky version of the great John Martyn song “Man in the Station”.  Side 1 of the album (I bought it on vinyl, so I’m sticking with that format) ends with a fairly rare (at that time) Matthews composition, “Let There be Blues” which keeps the melancholy mood nicely on track.

And then I turned over to Side 2 for the real revelations.  The first track, “Carefully Taught”, is a perfect example of Matthews’ ability to completely remake an existing song.  The original is a workmanlike Rogers & Hammerstein song from “South Pacific” with very good intentions, played as a fast show song, which Matthews strips back to a half-tempo a cappella version while editing the lyrics to fit everything in to an extraordinary 60 second masterpiece; if you don’t appreciate this, you have no soul.  Listen to the original “Carefully Taught” and decide for yourself.

This is followed by a strong Matthews original, the title song, “Stealing Home”, another melancholy song which deals with a disintegrating relationship.  The most commercially successful song on the album, “Shake It”, is next, moving the tempo up a few notches while keeping up the theme of nostalgia for a happier era.  It’s one of Terry Boylan’s finest moments and was a deserved American chart success.

Next up is another of the album’s revelations and a great example of Matthews’ ability to fit songs to his own mould. “Yank and Mary(Smile)” is a medley which combines the verses from a Richard Stekol song about two ingénues moving to California with the chorus from the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile”.  It’s a perfect mix because the two songs blend seamlessly into a beautiful whole.

The two songs which round off the album, “Slip Away” and “Sail my Soul” , are both co-written with Bill Lamb.  The first is a mid-tempo song aimed at the same market as “Shake It” and the second is a soulful ballad with some lovely slide guitar which finishes off the album with a positive message that relationships can work sometimes.

If you love great songs, great singers and great arrangements, you should listen to this album.  It may be really unfashionable in the current musical climate but this is a beautiful album and it’s one of my closet classics.   If you want to find out more about Iain Matthews (as he’s known again now) have a look on his website.

We always welcome feedback at Riot Towers so let us know if you listened to the album and liked (or hated) it.  Even better, send us your feelings about your own closet classic and there’s a good chance that we’ll use it on the site.

Also, let us know what you think of using Spotify links to featured songs and albums.  How quickly did the links work?  If you downloaded Spotify from the link provided, how quickly did it download?  Do you like the idea of having instant access to the songs being reviewed? Your feedback will help us to give you a better and more responsive site.

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If you’ve been checking out Music Riot for a while you’ll probably realise that we don’t just tell you about one type of music.  If it comes in for review we cover it, whichever genre it belongs to.  If you like that approach, then watch out for our new feature “Closet Classics”.

It’s all about those albums in our collections that we love but everyone else hates or no-one else has ever heard of.  The albums that we loved the first time we heard them, the albums that we play when we’re trying to impress with our musical eclecticism or just to show that we know more about music than everyone else.  Those albums usually have a story to accompany them and we’re going to reveal the innermost depths of our music collections to you; but it’s not just a one-way street.

As an added bonus, we’re also going interactive with this one.  First of all, we’re giving you links to the featured albums so that one click takes you to the featured songs.  We’re doing this through Spotify, which you can download free here:

The second bit of interactivity is that we want you to tell us about your own closet classics.  Send us your thoughts about your guilty pleasure on CD or vinyl and we’ll publish as many of them as we can on MusicRiot with links to live streaming from Spotify.  We want to hear about the music, but it would be great to know about any personal associations that the album has for you as well.

Watch out for more details on how to tell the world about your closet classics.

Picture of - Madonna Mdna: 2cd: Deluxe Edition
Will MDNA contain Madonna’s first number 1 single this decade? She’s had at least two for the last three the last one being in 2007 with ‘Hung Up’. But does it even matter? This album is the equivalent of a can of Coke, an I-Pad, a pair of Converse; not because it’s disposable necessarily but because it’s a product designed to sell in shed loads because of pure brand loyalty and in the music industry there is no bigger brand than Madonna. The digital pre-order for the album alone has made I-Tunes history with the most copies ordered in one day and immediately sent it to number one in 50 countries over the world, and at that point nobody had even heard it. Buy tickets for her upcoming tour and you’ll get a copy of “MDNA” thrown in for free; regular or deluxe? You decide. Her passion is now film making (her second film W.E. currently standing at 12% on Rotten Tomatoes) but, in her words, music ‘pays the rent’. Ok then. She doesn’t even seem to want to talk about the music referring to the influence for this album as ‘having fun, forgetting your troubles and turning up the radio in a fast car’. So is there any reason to see this album as anything other than a product to promote a tour that will probably make more money than the last, which was the highest grossing tour of all time? Her first scent (why now? that’s not the name of it by the way but maybe it should be) is also out next month and then some specially designed shoes under the brand name ‘Truth or Dare’ (that’s the name of the scent too). Is the music anything other than corporate pop and is anyone really listening anymore?

There are some great songs here. ‘Turn up the Radio’ had already been recorded but not released by Sunday Girl and Martin Solveig and Solveig produces 3 of the songs on the main version of the album including this. The production’s a bit flat and muddy and desperately tries to recapture the energy and vitality of the sonically similar ‘Hello’ that Solveig produced for Dragonette (and surely the reason Madonna hired him) but “Turn up the Radio” is a huge song which should have been the lead single and will sound great on the radio (oh yeah!). ‘I’m Addicted’ is a twisting, slippery synth monster that gets more out of control the longer it plays with Madonna referencing the drug MDMA (recently asked what she would you never do, Madonna replied ‘drugs’) before it morphs into a chant of the album’s title; MDNA. It works as it sounds like peak period Madonna (‘All of the letters push to the front of my mouth, and saying your name is somewhere between a prayer and a shout’, a fantastic Madonna lyric on a lyrically dire album) and it authentically evokes the feeling of being in a nightclub at 4.00am in the morning, probably not with the people you arrived with 6 hours earlier, just as Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, an obvious influence, did some 35 years ago.

The horribly-titled “Gang Bang” (a phrase thankfully never said or sung in the entire song) is the oddest thing here. The longest track at nearly 6 minutes long it’s a dead eyed spoken performance of sadistic revenge with repeated use of the word ‘bitch’ over a thudding minimalist beat, a guitar riff and a techno synth line. It has the most successful use of a dub step break (worst example would be the lyrically embarrassing ‘Superstar’ which features daughter Lola on backing vocals) but is hard to love. William Orbit, one of Madonna’s most successful collaborators has a co-production on this track and is also responsible for 4 other songs including an homage to Abba’s “The Visitors” album, the one proper ballad ‘Falling Free’ (sung in her posh Evita voice) and the ‘Ray of Light’-ish ‘I’m A Sinner’ and structurally complex ‘Love Spent’. Her vocal style, although sounding heavily manipulated on every track including the ones where it’s not meant to, changes for the better when she records with Orbit singing in a higher more emotionally charged register instead of sounding like she’s struggling with a sinus infection as she has done on her last couple of albums. But these songs are neither Madonna’s nor Orbit’s best and certainly not in the same league as the elegant, haunted ‘Frozen’ or bombastic ‘Ray of Light’.

The two lead singles are probably the worst things on here; the completely generic ‘Girl Gone Wild’ in particular is aiming at a demographic that won’t want to know as they are many (many) other performers in that field that they can actually relate to, who are the same age as them and Madonna’s most childish song since Material Girl, ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’ (‘L.U.V. MADONNA, Y.O.U. WANNA?’)” feels wholly inappropriate and depressing at this stage in her career and it’s hard to understand why she’s so desperate to ape popular musical trends that already borrow so heavily from her in the first place and sell them back like an inferior copycat. And ‘Beautiful Killer’ is a lovely album track and will probably become a personal favourite of many fans but it’s only available on the deluxe version. So it’s a bit of a mixed bag then.

I remember the excitement surrounding the release of Madonna’s Ray of Light album in 1998. Her previous two albums (the r ‘n’ b influenced, uneven “Bedtime Stories” and the almost career destroying, not very ‘Erotica’ album) sold way less than anything she’d released before and presented a once supremely confident superstar as uncertain and dubious of committing to the music that she was now producing. With William Orbit, a resolutely non-showy British musician and producer, Madonna seemed to have found her musical soul partner. She appeared to have a very real attachment to the record and to Orbit and was considered to be her most creative and interesting album since 1998’s “Like A Prayer” and it was deservedly a huge hit. For the follow up she continued to work with Orbit but he was overshadowed by French producer Mirwais whose “Music” album is like “Ray of Light”‘s even stranger, more introverted sister and Madonna seemed very much at home and relaxed in this world. However with the release of the commercial and critical failure ‘American Life’ album, something to scare Madonna and introversion and experimentation was replaced by Stuart Price’s filtered disco and Abba-sampling “Confessions On a Dancefloor” which took Madonna back to the top of the charts. It was all a bit hen party come provincial gay club and since then there seems to be a resting on the laurels of the Madonna legacy; she began to acknowledge herself as The Queen and working with superstar American r ‘n’ b producers who were well past their sell by date.

Madonna continues to be a fascinating artist but not necessarily for the right reasons anymore. Ask anyone what they think about her now and their response will usually be along the lines of ‘She looks amazing, she’s so fit’ or ‘She’s too muscular, she’s had too much surgery’. These comments may be sexist and a reflection of our appallingly youth focused era but Madonna appears to be as obsessed with these things as we are and that was never what she was about. It would be great if people started to respond to and talk about the music again but unfortunately if the Queen continues to make albums as dreary and unimaginative as this one then maybe the time has come for her to finally bow out. If we used half-stars, I would take one off this 3 rating.

The links used in this review are to Spotify music streaming.  If you don’t already have Spotify and want to get the maximum impact from the review, you can download the free version here:

The first time I saw Nick Lowe play was the first proper gig I saw. It was at Mansfield Civic Theatre in the early 70s when he was singing, playing bass and writing songs for the criminally under-rated band Brinsley Schwarz (who later became the nucleus of Graham Parker and the Rumour). The support bands on the tour were picked up locally and the support for the Mansfield show was a rock covers band named Care with a substantial following from the local Hell’s Angels chapter. Care did their set and went down pretty well; we were all ready for Brinsley Schwarz.

Nick Lowe 1979 St Andrews University (Photo by Allan McKay)

The band hit the stage and, after a couple of songs, it was obvious that something was wrong. The Angels didn’t like melodic pub rock and they were determined to show exactly how much they disliked it. With virtually no security there was a stage invasion which became a battle between Nottinghamshire’s finest bikers and a bunch of Southern musicians and their road crew. The turning point in the battle came when an Angel threw himself at Nick Lowe and found his mouth full of Gibson EB bass machine head; Southern softies 1, northern bikers 0. So my first gig had a stage invasion, a proper fight and an important lesson; it’s not about how big or ugly you are, it’s about how wisely you deploy your resources. I still like to think that his nickname “Basher” came from that night.

Anyway, Brinsley Schwarz dwindled into commercial obscurity and went their various ways. Nick Lowe signed to Stiff Records as a solo artist (the first Stiff EP was Lowe’s “Bowi” 7″, a verbal riposte to David Bowie’s “Low” album ) and also as a hired gun producer for the label’s early artists including The Damned and Elvis Costello. From 1977 to 1980, Nick Lowe was everywhere. He released his own “Jesus of Cool” album, which featured the hit single “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” and he formed Rockpile with Dave Edmunds achieving a couple of hits with “Girls Talk” and “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” and had a writing credit on Dr Feelgood’s “Milk and Alcohol”. He toured extensively with Edmunds as Rockpile playing sets which featured their solo hits and collaborations, including the 1979 hit “Cruel to be Kind”.

Following his production credit for the first Graham Parker album, “Howling Wind” (featuring some of his old Brinsley Schwarz bandmates), he produced the third Graham Parker album “Stick To Me” at short notice after problems were discovered with the original master tapes. The final mix suited Parker’s material but some music writers were unimpressed; Greil Marcus complained about the sound, so Nick paid him a visit. He looked at the critic’s state-of-the-art hi-fi and announced that it was fine for listening to Boston and Foreigner but “Stick to Me” was mixed to sound good on a Dansette (readers under the age of 40 might need to Google that one).

From the mid-80s, he gradually faded from the commercial scene while still working with highly influential musicians such as John Hiatt, Ry Cooder and Paul Carrack to produce high quality albums. The commercial decline ended in 1992 when a Curtis Stigers cover of a song written for Brinsley Schwarz in the mid-70s was featured on the soundtrack for “The Bodyguard”. The album sold 44 millions and finally guaranteed Nick Lowe a decent income.

From this point onwards, he was able to develop, and succeed with, the later-life Nick Lowe songwriting and singing style which is much more relaxed, concentrating on lyrics and melody rather than volume and production techniques. The critics started to wake up to the new Nick Lowe sound with the release of “The Impossible Bird” in 1994 and the momentum has continued to build (very slowly) ever since. The release of “The Convincer” in 2001 stepped up the process as more critics got on board, although mainstream commercial rebirth was still a few years away.

The release of the album “The Old Magic” in 2011 cemented Nick Lowe’s reputation as an elder statesman of the British music scene. Backed by the same group of musicians who have featured on recent live and recorded appearances, the album is a perfect statement of Nick Lowe’s singing and songwriting abilities. The songs don’t need a perfect snare sound or a banging bass drum to work well; they just need to be captured in a way that conveys a message to an audience that wants to listen.

Back in the 70s, Nick Lowe had a reputation as the kind of songwriter who could write a song on the bus on the back of a cigarette packet and he’s certainly been very prolific since joining Kippington Lodge in 1967, before it evolved into Brinsley Schwarz. He’s written many, many very good songs and a few great songs in styles ranging from pop through rock to country crooning and he’s still having a good time playing live over 40 years down the line with a critically-acclaimed album to support.

It’s great to see that a hugely talented musician/singer/songwriter/producer can come through the highs and lows of a long career in a business which worships youth more than talent retaining the respect of his peers and real music fans alike. If you use Spotify and you want to have a listen to some of his songs, try these links:

If you don’t already use Spotify you can download it here: