It is becoming increasingly clear with the passing of each year, that the terms commercial and credible are largely mutually exclusive as it applies to pop music. There are very few new artists/bands that fit neatly into both categories – but they are a rare commodity. It seems like the days in which everyone knew and liked the same artists/bands across generations are a distant memory. The issue is not a lack of talent but there is a growing disconnect between musical talent and the promotional vehicles that can circumvent the unfortunate barriers that terrestrial radio continues to erect and bring that talent to the ears of a mass audience. At times like these, the only glimmer of hope for pop music connoisseurs is the return of acts with a track record of quality blended with artistic integrity. In the past, we have titled these posts as “Veteran artists returning in” 2016 or 2015 etc. This year, we are dropping the word “veteran” from our blog post title. The reasoning behind this is that some of the artists we wanted to highlight are NOT veterans by any stretch but they are poised for greatness and longevity with the right amount of promotional support. In view of this, here are our top returning artists/bands to watch out for in 2018:
My enthusiasm with regard to Kylie Minogue has been somewhat muted over the last few years – mostly because I feel that her releases post her 2010 masterpiece “Aphrodite” have been lackluster at best. The only exception to this is “Limpido” – her multi-lingual duet with Italian superstar Laura Pausini. Furthermore, the song “Waiting for the sun” that could have been the greatest on her 2014 album “Kiss Me Once” was dropped from the album. Its exclusion from the album is a poor decision to say the least. That being said, I am not discounting Kylie yet. She has proven multiple times that she is incredibly capable of reinventing herself musically. She successfully shed her SAW era (an era of her catalog produced by the hit-trio of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Peter Waterman) in the early 90s and then eased into an Indie sound on her album “Impossible Princess“. She turns 50 this year and it is entirely possible that she will make this year to be far more than her chronological milestone.
[January 17,2018 UPDATE]: The new Kylie Minogue single “Dancing” is slated for release on January 19,2018. It is the lead single for her new album “Golden“.
2016 and 2017 were undoubtedly defining years for one of pop music’s most unlikely resurrections. Craig David’s vocal talent was never a question that was up for debate. That being said, he started to blend with other R&B artists after the release of his sophomore album “Slicker than your average“. It appeared that with his second album, he jettisoned his unique garage-R&B fusion that made his debut album “Born to do it” a global success. In doing so, he shed what made him unique. The world of pop music is an unfair and almost unreasonable one. It appears that uniqueness counts far more than credibility at times. Craig David pulled off a staggering personal brand repositioning in the last few years. More importantly, with his TS5 shows, he made himself a distinguishable pop brand. This is pretty impressive for an artist in his mid-30s – especially in the highly ageist climate that he is surrounded by. His 2016 album “Following my intuition” topped the UK album charts and he started playing to sold out arenas all over again. In my humble opinion, it is not his best work but it made him distinguishable in a music scene characterized by homogeneity. He never failed to conceal his gratitude at each of these shows and his interviews. I appreciate his need to capitalize on the newfound momentum and release new material. That being said, despite the fact that I am absolutely rooting for Craig David, I cannot help but be skeptical about the pace at which he is trying to release new material. He has been down this path before with his sophomore album. Furthermore, I am quite underwhelmed by the few songs from his new album “The time is now” that have already seen the light of day. The new album is slated for release on January 26, 2018.
TEARS FOR FEARS:
The duo from Bath (UK) has been milking their legacy via a lot of live concerts (including as guests for Hall & Oates) over the last few years. Yet, the appetite for them is far from diminishing. Why would it diminish? The anthem-heavy catalog of Tears For Fears is timeless and the songs sound as epic today as they did when they first released. Rarely has technical proficiency and superior artistry come together the way it has in the form of Tears for Fears. Their 2004 album “Everybody loves a happy ending” (their first as a duo since their split in 1990) had a rather polarizing effect on their fanbase. The Beatles-esque sound that dominated the album was not everyone’s cup of tea. In our humble opinion, besides “Secret World“, nothing from that album qualifies as a Tears For Fears album essential. Furthermore, in an interview with The Guardian, Curt Smith (one half of the duo) said that releasing new material was a money losing proposition. This made me even less hopeful of new material from these musical geniuses. Fortunately, I have a rejuvenated sense of enthusiasm for them since the release of their brilliant 2017 single “I Love You But I’m Lost“. This song screams quintessential Tears for Fears and if it is in any way indicative of their new material, fans are in for a treat. No release date has been announced yet for the new album but I am definitely waiting with bated breath. Here is a full-length video clip for “I Love You But I’m Lost“:
Those than tune into our 24/7 broadcast are well aware of our penchant for the glam factor and unbridled creativity of the New Wave-era of the 80s. It appears that The Killers embodied some of that and it has served them well. But if there was a band today that is reminiscent of pop music’s glory years, it is The 1975. Despite lead singer Matt Healy’s claim that the band’s music is rooted in Black American music. the imagery that they create through their sound is one of a modern INXS (without the band’s trademark saxophone sound though). I initially wrote off the band as a “flavor of the moment” British alt-rock act but am actively rethinking that stance. “She’s American” (the sixth single from The 1975’s sophomore album) is hands down one of the best singles of 2016. It is one of those songs that is practically begging to be blasted out of car stereos while driving. The 1975 might be giving me a nod of acknowledgment on the car-stereo assertion as their album slated for release this year is titled “Music for cars“.
Being a solo female pop artist in the 80s must have been difficult. It appeared that most female artists in pop music’s decade of glory played second fiddle to Madonna as far the music-buying public was concerned. That being said, if Madonna did have competition it was from Belinda Carlisle and Kim Wilde. While evaluating new musical offerings from veteran artists, it is common to make comparisons to music from the artist’s commercial prime. In the case of Kim Wilde, this might be inappropriate. The reason being that her recent output is far superior to the music that made her an international superstar. Many call Madonna the queen of reinvention but I strongly believe that the reinvention accolade belongs to Kim Wilde. In 2006, she pulled off one of the most stunning musical transformations from a pop princess to a rock-chick with pop sensibilities. “Never say Never” was the first of these albums that showcased Kim’s new direction. It was a precursor to greater music in the form of the brilliant “Come out and play” (the follow up to “Never say never”) album. I cannot shower enough praise on this album. My only criticism of it is that one of the best tracks on this album is ONLY available on the French edition of this album. That sonic gem is titled “Carry me home“. Kim continued to explore her new sonic template on a covers album titled “Snapshots“. The album’s lead single “It’s alright” (a cover of the 90s East 17 hit) absolutely eclipses the original. One can only hope that she builds on this formula on her upcoming album “Here Come The Aliens“. While artists such as Kim Wilde probably resent our assertion of their approach to music being formulaic, I mean that as a compliment in this case. In a pop landscape that is light on quality, I will gladly take formulaic over different especially if formulaic means “formulaic good”. Here is a trailer for “Here Come The Aliens“:
Like I did with The 1975, I initially wrote off Bastille as yet another British indie rock band that was likely to fade out fairly soon. Their breakout single “Pompeii” (which we gave a lot of airplay to on our 24/7 broadcast) seemed somewhat formulaic but effective in its ability to cut through the clutter and become a chartbuster on the singles charts on both sides of the Atlantic. With the release of “Things we lost in the fire“, I started to give the band more credit. With their clever cover mashup (titled “Of The Night“) of Snap’s “Rhythm is a dancer” and Corona’s “Rhythm of the night” Bastille started to look more and more like an innovative band that was bound by the shackles of pop music convention. Their sophomore album “Wild World” was ambitious and showcased different facets of the band. I admire the ambition of the band on that album but have to admit to being very underwhelmed by it. Sophomore albums are double-edged swords. It is never really clear which way an artist/band should go while following a stellar debut. There is a risk of being labeled as formulaic if more of the same is released on the second album while experimentation can be considered an “unfortunate departure” from a sound that propelled the debut album to commercial success. In an interview with NME, Bastille’s lead singer Dan Smith said their third album will be different. It will be far more concise relative to the second album and will have a “night time” vibe. We endorse that direction – musically speaking!
The late 90s spawned quite a few all-girl groups out of the UK. All Saints were one of the faces and voices of this movement. While I don’t necessarily consider myself an All Saints fan, my penchant for great harmonies is something that band has catered to very well on multiple occasions. The most noteworthy of those are “Black Coffee” and “Pure Shores” (from the soundtrack of the movie “The Beach”). Those songs are almost 20 years old and hold up pretty well. After a short-lived reunion in the mid-2000s, All Saints attempted another far more successful comeback in 2016. The infectiously awesome single “One Strike” was the precursor to their 4th album “Red Flag“. It was based on band-member Nicole Appleton’s failed marriage to Liam Gallagher. This song might be a career highlight for the band and it definitely goes a long way in whetting the appetite for future material from them. The release date for their fifth album has not been announced yet.
In the ageist climate of the contemporary pop/rock music scene, I often wonder what motivates veteran acts such as Simple Minds to record and release new music. Their career that has lasted almost 40 years has had highs and lows commercially speaking. Like for most bands that rose to prominence in the 80s, the transition to the 90s was a difficult one – especially in the US. Fortunately, with the release of their 2009 album “Graffiti Soul“, the band started to find their mojo all over again and they bumped this up quite a few notches on their largely uptempo album titled “Big Music” (released in 2014). The first single of their upcoming album “Walk Between Worlds” saw the light of day around 10 days ago. The single is title “Magic“. It is recognizably Simple Minds and seems to blend the best of “Big Music” with the sound of their commercial prime. Fans will undoubtedly be pleased. The new album is slated for release on February 2, 2018. Here is a full-length video clip of their new single “Magic“:
The inclusion of Blackpool (UK) native Rae Morris in this list of returning musicians in 2018 lies at the heart of our decision to drop the word “veteran” from the title of this post. Her soon to be released sophomore album “Someone out there” is a reason for excitement at our end. The Enya-like beauty of Rae’s voice combined with an impeccable gift for songwriting makes her music a natural fit on our 24/7 radio broadcast. “Closer” and “Cold” (featuring Fryars) are two personal favorites that we have given a generous amount of radio play to. These songs triggered my fascination with Rae Morris and her single “Do It” goes a long way in building the appetite for her sophomore release. We just hope she does not fall prey to a reality that plagues many British pop musicians – namely obscurity in the US.
Many know Tracey Thorn as the achingly beautiful voice that made folk-pop turned dancefloor act Everything But The Girl into a potent force to be reckoned with. It has been almost nineteen years since the husband-wife duo has released an album. They have not officially split as a band but there is not even a hint of an artistic reunion between Tracey Thorn and her husband Ben Watt. Tracy has released solo albums since then. Our personal favorite is “Out of the woods” (released in 2007) – especially the album’s final single “Grand Canyon” – the song that comes the closest to capturing the magic of the Everything But The Girl sound. It is not clear which direction she is headed in with her upcoming album but I am most definitely intrigued.
[January 17, 2018 UPDATE] : The new Tracey Thorn single “Queen” has released. It is the lead singer for her new album titled “Record“. The album is slated to release on March 2,2018. The album features collaborations with Shura and Corrine Bailey Rae.
POETS OF THE FALL:
Finnish rockers Poets Of The Fall are undoubtedly rock’s best kept secret. It is hard for us to compare them to any other mainstream band. The nearest sonic parallel is British rock band Muse – but even that comparison seems unfair and does a disservice to the uniqueness of Poets Of The Fall. Blending atmospheric sounds, hard-hitting guitar riffs, and strong hook-laden melodies with a rocky edge that is neither harsh nor noisy, Poets Of The Fall has hit on a sound that ought to be the template for commercial modern rock music. Some critics have incorrectly categorized their music as being “ambient rock”. Ambient and atmospheric sounds have been used as embellishments for the music but certainly do not constitute the core of the music. Each one of the band’s albums is an invigorating cocktail of hard-rock tracks and softer-edged melodic tracks thus catering to hard-rock purists as well as pop fanatics that enjoy the occasional flirtation with rock. The band’s music is like an adrenaline injection that will make your heart and emotions soar. Lead singer Marko Saaresto embodies a distinct look and voice that puts him in the same league as magnetic rock frontmen such as Michael Hutchence, Bono, and Sting. The band is incredibly prolific. We’re not sure if and when they actually take a vacation. It appears that they are always touring or in the recording studio. I just hope they do not become victims of extreme fatigue in the process. I have to admit to not being much of a fan of their last album “Clearview“. To me, it definitely broke the stellar momentum they had gained with albums such as “Temple of thought” and “Jealous Gods“. That being said, we do believe that creative highs and lows are an intrinsic part of a band’s journey. Hopefully “Clearview” is a precursor to yet another high for the band.
One of the greatest crimes of recent pop music history is the absence of Samantha James from the top 10 singles charts in the top 5 major music markets. Blending style, substance, breathy vocals, impeccable songwriting sensibilities, and an ethereal beauty, she is the poster-child for what the modern popstar should be. If Sade and Everything But The Girl were fused into dance-worthy pop music and laced with a little Madonna-like spunk, you would get Samantha James. It has been almost 8 years since the release of her last album titled “Subconscious” – which marked a dramatic upswing in quality from her stellar debut album “Rise“. It is unclear as to what has kept her away from music for so long but her recent posts on her Facebook fanpage suggest that she is actively working on new music. She appears hesitant to suggest an approximate release date for the new album. She probably does this in an endeavor to avoid being bound by a sense of urgency and is probably more focused on delivering something she is proud of showcasing. In an industry wherein credibility and a commitment to painstaking perfection does not seem to be celebrated as much as we would like it to be, Samantha James’ ethic is exemplary. Here is a single she released in 2011 in honor of the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan:
All the proceeds from the sale of the single went towards the victims. This song is a great appetizer to the sumptuousness of her goosebump-inducing body of work.
Our 24/7 global radio broadcast for Radio Creme Brulee was created to counteract the isolation of Europe from America’s musical mainstream by terrestrial broadcast music radio. One of the more obvious symptoms of that isolation is British popstar Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Recently, one of our listeners wrote to us after hearing “Come to Us” from Sophie’s last album “Familia“. He was under the assumption that she was a new artist until he discovered quickly on youtube that her solo career dates back all the way to 2001 – when her hit “Murder on the dancefloor” became ubiquitous part of the sonic backdrop of pop culture all over the world except the US (are we really surprised about this given terrestrial radio’s geocentric bias?). She has been one of the more reliable bets in the music business. While her albums might not be perfect, they offer enough for music connoisseurs that like modern pop with disco flourishes. This year, Sophie is releasing an album of orchestral versions of her hits. This sonic treatment is likely to unearth the embryonic beauty of the songs. It will undoubtedly reveal that the high-quality production for her music is merely the embellishment and not the core.
As you can see based on the list above, 2018 has a lot for us to be hopeful of in the world of pop/rock music. Any noteworthy artists or bands that we have missed in this list? Please do let us know via the comments section below. Happy 2018 all!
In case you did not pick up on this earlier, the blog you are reading is affiliated with Radio Creme Brulee – an online radio station that features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. Alongside newer artists, we also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s and 90s. Noteworthy examples include Simply Red, Wet Wet Wet, Tears For Fears, Suede, The Corrs, Dubstar, Duran Duran, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.
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