Around a year ago, we published our annual post for “Veteran artists to look out for in 2014”. There was a lot of excitement around that post. Some of that excitement was warranted. Some clearly was not. Some artists delivered on expectations (e.g. Take That) while some disappointed (i.e. Kylie Minogue) and there were others that simply delayed on “commitments” (e.g. Duran Duran, Tears For Fears) – and we’re referring to “commitments” in the loosest sense of the word. That being said, 2015 just might be shaping up to into an eventful for year for pop music with several returns from pop/rock powerhouses. Here is our list of acts to watch out for in 2015:
Madonna: Age does not seem to be an impediment to the world’s undisputed “Queen of pop” from wanting to conquer the pop music world over and over again. Her work ethic is as grounded as it ever has been and like many veteran acts, she does not rest on her laurels or take satisfaction in her stellar and enduring musical legacy. It has been almost three years since Madonna released her last album “MDNA” – an album that had the most polarizing effect on her global fanbase. Singles such as “Give me all your luvin” made it seem like Madonna was having either a mid-life crisis or a musical identity crisis. While her ardent fanbase still hails “MDNA” as an artistic victory, skeptics and casual fans perceive the album as the sign of a downward trend in Madonna’s artistry. Now, in her mid-50s, Madonna probably has more to prove than she ever did to “turn the ship around”. There are some signs that she just might be doing this. Official sources claim that she is working with producers Diplo and Avicii on an album due for release next year. Two tracks (in a somewhat embryonic form) have surfaced online – “Washed Over Me” and “Rebel Heart“. The latter is the track that shows a lot of promise. Sonically, it is quite reminiscent of “The Days” (Avicii’s collaboration with Robbie Williams). Like on “The Days“, Avicii marries acoustic guitar embellishments with an electronic sound forming a great soundscape for Madonna’s impeccable vocals to drift in. If “Rebel Heart” is representative of the album’s material, Madonna fans and skeptics are bound to be impressed.
Adele: British songstress Adele just might be one of the few artists in the music industry that still sells records. She does so without fitting most of the confining moulds that modern pop stars have to work within to earn a livelihood in the music industry. She is without a doubt an incredible vocalist that typically stimulates a sense of consensus whenever her merits as an artist are discussed. We take pride in being one of the few stations in America that played her music before she became known in the mainstream. She is credible if not the most interesting. Some of her widespread appeal might stem from her “safe and wholesome” positioning in the pop music business. Her first two albums were named after her age at the time of their release. Possibly “26” is the album slated for release in 2015.
Ne-Yo: In the mid-2000s, the tired generic sound that had dominated R&B for close to a decade was starting to see some rejuvenation in the form of Ne-Yo – a songwriter turned solo artist that drew influences from artists such as Michael Jackson and late 80s R&B stars. His ballads were often better than the up-tempo tracks. He brought something unique to the table and his distinct vocals set him apart from scores of R&B/Urban artists that sounded almost identical. His new album “Non-Fiction” will see the light of day in January 2015. While we don’t find him nearly as exciting as we did on his first two albums of late, we can hope for at least one or two killer songs off the new album – and for a radio station like us, that is NOT a bad thing.
Duran Duran: We had the opportunity of briefly meeting Nile Rodgers (one of two producers on the new Duran Duran album) during the Advertising Week events in New York City in October 2014. Rodgers indicated that the new Duran Duran album is “sounding great”. The pioneers of the location-based music video shoots, and posterboys of the 80s and early 90s have continued to deliver fantastic music for years after their so-called commercial prime. Age has not slowed them down. They sound and look amazing in their live shows. Their recent performance at “Fashion Rocks” in California is proof of that. They still have the same spark that they did when they first emerged in 1981 as a potent force to be reckoned with. Lead singer Simon LeBon’s voice ages better than a bottle of great wine. Their 2010 album “All You Need Is Now” has been described by its producer Mark Ronson as the sequel to their landmark album “Rio” (released in the early 80s). That album had the distinguishing feature of sounding both retro and modern at the same time. It also succeeded in getting rid of the bitter after-taste that many Duran Duran fans were left with after listening to the Timbaland-produced “Red Carpet Massacre” album. There are fairly strong indications that a new album by the band will see the light of day in 2015. On this album, the band is working with Nile Rodgers and Mark Ronson – two producers that brought out a side of Duran Duran that people had never heard. They were the sonic architects of a sound that Duran Duran could own and shine with. The new material cannot release soon enough.
Natalie Imbruglia: Natalie Imbruglia is one of those artists whose songwriting competencies have become sharper with time and yet she is constantly anchored to her signature track “Torn” – a song that was NOT written by her. Sadly, for those that have not looked beyond “Torn” with regard to Natalie Imbruglia, they have truly missed out on her artistic brilliance. It was only on her sophomore album “White Lilies Island” (which spawned the hit single “Wrong Impression“) that Natalie Imbruglia start to hone her songwriting skills as opposed to being a puppet for songwriters. It was on her fourth album “Come To Life” (which spawned the addictive “Lukas“) that Natalie Imbruglia hit her artistic peak. Sadly, the album was very poorly promoted and tanked even before it could truly see the light of day. Most music listeners (besides Natalie’s ardent fans) had no idea she was back with her best music. The album definitely became a victim of obscurity. For the longest time, there were rumors that Natalie was set to quit the business after the commercial failure of “Come to Life“. She recently indicated that she is slated to release a “covers” album in 2015. The covers include songs by Neil Young and Daft Punk. While new material from Ms Imbruglia is always welcome, we are a little disappointed that the album won’t feature newly written material.
Will Young: We have never fancied artists that rise to stardom through reality television shows such as the X Factor, and American Idol. We strongly believe that these artists are not groomed for long-lasting careers and that any commercial success that they do enjoy is because of the halo around their time in the limelight on these television shows. We had a similar feeling about Will Young. He has a beautiful voice but we never found him particularly exciting. He was your average-joe balladeer until he took a stylistic departure for the better on his album “Echoes” – a collaboration with dance music producer Richard X (known for his collaborations with Saint Etienne). Gone were the MOR ballads, and instead we got a collection of mid to uptempo “feel-good” tracks. The ones that were particularly delectable were “Runaway” and “I just want a lover“. This is a sound that absolutely works for him and it took “Echoes” to #1 on the UK album charts. We really hope he explores this sound further on his next album to be released in 2015.
Tears For Fears: The new Tears For Fears album was slated for release in 2014 and based on an interview in April 2014, it seemed like the album had been recorded (but not mixed). Rarely does an act from yesteryear sign a major record label deal but it looks like Tears For Fears has against all odds. They recently signed an album deal with Warner Music – and the specifics of the deal have caused the album to be delayed but there is enough evidence that points to a 2015 release. The duo first reunited in 2002. The result of these recording sessions manifested itself in the form of “Everybody loves a happy ending” – an album that was Beatles-esque at its very core and a radical departure from the sophisticated sonic template that dominated the two landmark Tears For Fears albums (i.e. “Songs from the big chair” and “Seeds of love“). This album polarized the band’s fanbase. The reunion tour was a successful one. The duo split again and it seemed unlikely that they would ever record again when Curt Smith once said in an interview that making music as Tears For Fears was a “money losing proposition” due to the rampant phenomenon of ageism in the musical mainstream. In view of this statement, the news of a new Tears For Fears album is very welcome. Roland Orzabal has described the new music to be dark and dramatic. We can barely wait!
Garbage: When people think of bands that defined the sound of the 90s, Garbage is definitely one of the names that come to mind. Their heavy-sounding pop seemed to fuse different types of genres from across the music spectrum made them stand out. Shirley Manson was undoubtedly one of the leading lead singers of any band of that era. After a moderately successful reunion album “Not your Kind Of People” (released in 2012 on their own label), the band is back in the studio working on new material which will hopefully see the light of day next year.
Shayne Ward: If we were skeptical of Will Young, our skepticism of Shayne Ward ran even deeper. He is yet another X Factor alumnus that milked the show’s halo on his first album. He lost the momentum on his second album “Breathless” – which actually had a some great tracks despite being lyrically a little cringe-worthy. Noteworthy highlights include the guilty pleasure “No U Hang up“, “Damaged“, and “U Got Me So“. Shayne Ward’s third album “Obsession” did not do much to reignite his career in any way but he has not thrown in the towel. In fact, he has worked with Mike Stock (from the late 80s/ early 90s songwriting and production powerhouse Stock Aitken and Waterman) on a new album titled “Closer” – slated for release in April 2015. This album, is available for pre-order via Pledgemusic. CLICK HERE to pre-order. We are definitely intrigued and cannot wait to see the results of this collaboration.
Culture Club: 2013 was supposed to be the year that marked Culture Club’s glorious return and a celebration of 30 years since they stormed the global pop landscape with their first hit single “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me“. The band previewed a new track called “Universal Love” at live gigs in Dubai and Sydney in 2012. The song is brilliant and without a doubt a Culture Club essential. But then it seemed like things went quiet. Boy George’s release of “This is What I Do” in October 2013 intensified speculation that the Culture Club project might have been shelved permanently. Fortunately, the new album “Tribes” has been announced and is slated for release in April 2015. Recently, the band’s touring plans were canceled because of medical treatment that Boy George requires for his vocal cords. The spectrum of music on this album appears to be quite eclectic – ranging from the U2-esque lead single “More than silence” to the funk-fueled “Like I used to“. More importantly, Culture Club sounds more like a band than they ever did. The album can be pre-ordered via PledgeMusic. Click HERE to PREORDER.
Brandon Flowers: In an interview with British television host Jonathan Ross, The Killers‘ frontman Brandon Flowers was asked how the songwriting responsibilities were distributed across the band. Flowers responded by saying that all 4 members write the music but he writes the lyrics. Jonathan Ross’ response was “so basically, you could go solo if you wanted to”. Flowers did not respond but the question probably did plant a thought in his head. We have strongly believed that to make the transition to a successful solo career, there needs to be a stylistic shift in the music and potentially the image of the artist. Flowers did neither on his first solo album “Flamingo“. The album yet topped the UK albums chart and cracked the US top 10 but it was not enough for him to move on from The Killers. Now, he is working on a new album being produced by Ariel Rechtshaid. It is slated for release in 2015.
Kim Wilde: Being a female pop singer in the 80s must have been difficult – unless you had a unique positioning like Sade did. Back in that decade, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that every female singer was destined to live in the shadow of Madonna. That conclusion was in fact quite an accurate reality. There appeared to be no place for two pop queens in a single decade. Kim Wilde, like many other great female pop artists lived in Madonna’s shadow. Madonna always stole the spotlight in the 80s – and it appeared like that happened again the late 90s and early 2000s during which her ability to reinvent herself musically was applauded – even if at times, the music was not nearly as enduring as the material that elevated her to the title of pop queen. One of the most stunning and overlooked reinventions was that of Kim Wilde. After an almost 10-year hiatus from the music industry (during which she got married and took on gardening as a full-time career), she returned as a reinvented rock chick. The idea of a rock chick is great but the implementation of that stylistic approach doesn’t always translate well to a good record. Kim Wilde pulled it off – not once but twice with the fiercely sexy “Never say never” (2006) and “Come out and play” (2010) albums. These high-energy songs were rock-tinged pop songs with fantastic sing-along choruses. Kim returned once again with a covers album titled “Snapshots” which featured the amazing East 17 cover “It’s alright“. In 2013, she returned once again with a token Christmas album titled “Wilde Winter Songbook“. Needless to say, Kim Wilde’s new music is far better than anything Madonna has recorded in the past decade. In March 2014, she announced that she was working on new material which will probably see the light of day in 2015. We can only hope that the new album is a sonic sequel to the utterly brilliant “Come out and play” album.
Tom Chaplin: One of the most disappointment announcements in the music industry in 2013 was that of melodic rock band Keane’s. They had announced an indefinite hiatus and NOT a break-up. Lead singer Tom Chaplin’s solo career might have a lot to do with Keane’s prospects in the near or distant future. It is not clear where Tom Chaplin is headed stylistically but he did give us a sneak preview of what a solo effort by him sounds like.Here is a link to a snippet of it. It is likely (although we have no confirmation) that his first solo endeavor might surface at some point in 2015.
Def Leppard: They hated being lumped in with the “big hair” rock bands of the 80s – and said that theirs was just naturally big. But the thing is, they were more than just a “big hair” stadium-rock band. They were one of the few from that era whose music has endured and continues to enthrall new generations of music listeners. They were the pioneers of a pop-metal sound of the 80s characterized by glossy production, harmonic vocals, and fantastic melodic guitar riffs. Rumors suggest that they have been working on a new album this year that is slated for release in 2015. The prospect of new material by Def Leppard is exciting even though the band has not put out a great album in over two decades. That being said, every album since then has spawned or two good songs.
Samantha James: Samantha James might be one of the few female pop stars (if not the only one) today that embodies the winning combination of style and substance – making her the seminal modern pop star. Her biggest enemy is the mis-categorization of her music as “dance music”. As soon as one hears that term, we assume 7-minute tracks with sparse vocals that can only be listened to in dance clubs and absolutely nowhere else. This could not be further from the truth. Samantha James’ music can be described as a soundscape of musical elements that blend dance, soul, electronica, and Bossa Nova. It is almost like Sade meeting post-1995 Everything But The Girl. Samantha won audiences over with her debut album “Rise“. Many believe she would not be able to move forward from that high musically. She proved listeners wrong with her sophomore album “Subconscious” – an album so superior in quality that it makes its predecessor pale in comparison. It has been over 2 years since the release of “Subconscious”. In 2011, Samantha released an instantly lovable track called “Wings of Faith” as a charity single for the earthquake victims in Japan. Rarely are charity singles THAT good. One can only hope that “Wings of Faith” is representative of the material that Samantha will release in 2015. Recently, on her Facebook fanpage, she indicated that she had recorded a new single that was supposed to be released this year. But things have been quiet at her end, and hence we think it is only safe to assume the new material will surface in 2015.
New Order: New Order has continued to be a potent force in the live circuit in North America and Europe – even after the departure of their talented bass player Peter Hook. But it has been a while since they have had a great single or a great album. Their last album “Waiting for the Siren’s Call” spawned the uptempo single “Jetstream” (featuring Ana Matronic from Scissor Sisters). In terms of a great New Order album, the world has not heard one since “Republic” (1993). In 2013, New Order released “Lost Sirens” -a group of tracks that did NOT make it on to their last album “Waiting for the Sirens call“. The band recently announced a new record deal with Mute Records and is slated to release a new album in 2015. Here is a full-length clip of one of the new tracks titled “Singularity“:
Pet Shop Boys: This duo never seems to want to stop. Their tenacity and prolific songwriting is exemplary. They were one of the most memorable acts of the 1980s. They also made a reasonably good transition to the 90s outside North America. Their career saw yet another resurgence in the mid-2000s with their album “Fundamentalism” – which spawned the UK top 10 single “I’m with stupid” and the insanely brilliant “Minimal“. We were not particularly excited by their last couple of musical offerings but we are always curious as to what they might release next. Rumor has it that they are back in the recording studio working on new material slated for release next year.
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