picture courtesy of Adem at I'm Always Right, who was lucky enough to see them in concert!
Rogue Traders were originally an Australian dance act, featuring the DJ skills of James Ash, who continues to write songs for the group. Like many dance acts, they had one hit single (a remix of the INXS track "One of My Kind") and a flop album. Ash decided to makeover the band, and combine those dance and electro influences with rock and pop. They auditioned for a lead singer, and Natalie Bassingthwaighte won out. The group, which had filled out to be a full-fledged band from its two-guy roots, was initially apprehensive about hiring a woman that had the soap opera roots seemingly required of almost every Australian female pop star (in her case Neighbours). As a result, for the single cover and music video for the lead song off their second album, Here Come the Drums, Natalie's likeness was obscured, so the song would sell on its own merit as opposed to the existing fame of their lead singer. "Voodoo Child" was a smash #1 hit in Australia in 2005 and later a top 3 hit in the UK. After that, there was no stopping them, releasing several more singles and the extremely successful album; and touring both with Kelly Clarkson and as a headlining act. Natalie initially continued acting on Neighbours, but left the show to devote her attention to the group. So far, they're continuting to take over the UK and according to the MySpace homepage, plan to strike the U.S. this winter. I'm really excited. :)
Watching You (Dirty South Vocal Mix) - Third Australian single, second UK single. It samples "My Sharona", but you can't really hear it from this remix. This sounds more electro than the original. Like a lot of their songs, it pumps you up. Check out this rockin' performance of the album version from the MTV Australian Music Video Awards, which seem far cooler than the past several years of American VMAs. It even features Aborginal-looking inspired drummers (get it? Here come the drums!)
Way To Go! (TV Rock Remix) - One Australian dance act remixed by another Australian dance act. It was the second Australian single, but was skipped in the UK. I understand because it's my least favorite of their singles. It's still good, though. Like "Watching You", this has spoken/'rapped' verses with sung choruses, but it doesn't sound at all stupid or wannabe "ghetto". Once you get the cadence down and can listen to the lyrics, they're pretty satirical. This mix is more typical dance fare, but it's pretty cool.
Believer - Kicks off the album in style. Similar to some of their other tracks, but not a clone. And the riffs are brand-new! ;) Out of many tracks on the album, this is single-worthy. Honestly, the only songs I wouldn't release are "Casting Aside" (because James sings that one and a large segment of the public would be stupid enough to be confused), "White Lightning" (it annoys me to be honest...I could see it kicking ass in concert, but on CD it hurts my ears), and "Change the Channel" (because it's a 30 second interlude).
We're Coming Home [Live at Adelaide Skyshow] - 4th Australian single. Not quite as successful as their others, probably due to the fact that the album had sold so well already. It's actually one of my favorite songs of theirs. It still has the electro-rock sound, but is even more driving and propulsive, and might actually be one of the greater possibilites of success in the U.S. This b-side live version stays true to the album version while actually being live. Natalie's live vocals are impressive, which is somewhat of a surprise given my recent dissapointments viewing live performances of some others.
Voodoo Child (12 inch mix) - The big hit single, just extended. It's a dance-rock single and a pop single all at once. It samples an Elvis Costello song I don't recognize. In some places, Rogue Traders have been criticized for being unoriginal, but who can fault being able to put your own spin on a track like this?
World Go Round - This song brings down the speed a little bit. It's more mid-tempo than a lot of their other songs, but still bears the signature hallmarks of their sound: guitars and beats.
We're Coming Home (James Ash Remix) - Just because I love this song so and imported the single, here's another electro influenced rework. James is lucky because he gets to reinvent these songs in several ways; he helps to craft the original album version's sound, and then works on a completely different-sounding remix for each single.
In Love Again - The piece de resistance of their catalog, a lovely electropop number that could be compared to the ballad-type songs on Rachel Stevens' Come and Get It. Except it's better, and I love that friggin' album (sorry Kirkland!). It's etheral and opens up slowly, before becoming slightly faster. Pure '80s inspired, and a departure from their general sound. It's the first Rogue Traders song I heard and the song that got me into them in the first place. Due to fan response, the record label decided to put it out as the 5th and final single from the album, before their next CD comes out next year. Unfortunately, they're planning to make it a download only track, which means that although remixes have been commisioned, only Australian residents will be able to buy them.
This amazing performance puts a different spin on it, with an acoustic beginning and great live singing.
Note on mp3s: Unfortunately zshare is screwing it up at the moment, so i'm back to rapidshare for now (at least it has those nifty multi-upload features). Sorry for the inconvenience. i'll try to find another free file host soon.
I know you all have been waiting with baited breath for this post. It's the whole unreleased Melissa Lefton album.
I hear you asking, who is Melissa Lefton? If you own the soundtrack to the Oscar-winning, Lance Bass starring movie On The Line, you may recognize a track called "My Hit Song". The single poked fun at the stereotypical pop/product industry, yet sounded just as poppy as said product. The other songs on the album are similar in that they had lyrical bite wrapped in sweet, fun packaging and a slightly Britney-esque voice. In the ultimate form of irony, Melissa was signed to Jive Records, the label responsible for many of the biggest examples of what she was satirizing.
Unfortunately, as you can see from my scan of the advance CD, the self-titled album was scheduled for release on September 11, 2001; for obvious reasons, the release was cancelled. This was the second time something like this happened to Melissa, who was already in her 20s; several years earlier she had been in a band that was signed to a major label, who also were dropped shortly before their debut entered stores. I cannot find any news whatsoever about where she is or what she's doing now; maybe she got discouraged at her failed attempts and left the music business. I hope not, because she had something to say and great hooks to say it with; as well as a hilarious electronic press kit serving as a Behind the Music spoof that chronicled her dehabilitating addiction to orange juice and seems to have fallen into the Internet ether.
1. My Hit Song - The aformentioned single, whose title was sadly, not prophetic. It was co-written with a pre-Avril Matrix. It doesn't really have that pop-rock sound, though. The video features Melissa seducing a record label head, and performing in a toy store with two people dressed in animal costumes and doing choreographed dance routines.
2. ...Now I Got Punk Rock Fever - I think this song might have been a bit prophetic. It's about teenagers turning away from pop music, thinking it's just for kids, and going for something more "edgy" because it's what they think its cool. Teen pop started to slip in status at about 2001, when this album was meant to come out. The lyrics are about the expectations that expect teenagers to be rebellious and sweet simultaneously, and the music alternates between hard guitars and screaming and sweet vocals and instrumentation that is a pastiche on the cheesiest of early '00s teen pop while sounding like it could fit right in.
3. Radio Rainbow - One of my favorite songs off the album. Upbeat pop with some acoustic guitars. While it sounds happy, the lyrics are more sinister. Either it's about an unpopular girl getting run out of a party with insults, or being drugged and raped (very Veronica Mars, no?). Throughout the song the latter becomes more clear. Great melody, although it's a bit unsettling with "lips moving in a rhythmic fashion" and "my drink tasted strange".
4. Ozone - Electropop before it made a comeback, plus that one fun instrument in the chorus I recognize from some older songs. There are sound effects including whistling and a Michael Jackson "hee-hee". It talks about social issues in the verses. The chorus completely ignores what the verses say. Fans of really obvious Auto-Tune (as in Cher's "Believe") will love this. I like it a lot too. You can take it as a simple dance-pop song or as something else, which is what's cool about her songs.
5. Last Summer - Breezy; very summer-y as the song says. Acoustic pop with drums. It's probably the most "normal" song on the album lyrically, about a guy and a relationship. While many of the songs on the album deserve to be heard by many more people, this is the one I see most likely to be recycled since it's not at all sarcastic. And I can't resist a song that actually says "doo-doo-doo".
6. Sugar Daddy - The title makes the subject obvious. She's disgusted by him, yet says she loves him and will stick around for the cash. "It won't be long until you die...for me" indeed. It's more quirky-sounding pop, with a lot of pianos. Kind of reminds me of Persephone's Bees. There's also some talky bits!
7. Bionic Man - Slightly r&b influenced beat in the verses, like a lot of pop at the time. The chorus has a superhero theme-type orchestral background added, which fits with the lyrics. And I think there's some French in the bridge. It's one of the happier songs.
8. Sunnyvile - Upbeat little tune about cults. Her vocals almost sound like she's one of those brainwashed Movementarians trying to convince you to join her in following the Leader (na na na na na na na, Lea-der!). Even a fake choir appears midway through.
9. I Love Life - The only other song of hers to get any sort of commercial release, on the Princess Diaries soundtrack. It's boppy and comes off as completely light and happy, but it has an undertone of an average suburban family that might not actually completely love their life, after all. Also, there's hot product placement (let's take another trip to Disneyland)! It can be read in both ways.
10. Who Shot Jennifer? - The beginning is airy pop, the chorus becomes more beat-driven. It's another one of my favorites. I actually think that nobody shot Jennifer and that the singer doesn't really care. Jennifer's life basically became taken over by the TV (which is why she's dead), and it's a pretty decent societal critique of media overload. Who would've thought you'd find that on a pop album? There are tons of vocal overdubs and instrumental loops that overtake the song, possibly to reflect that.
11. I Know You Want Me (How Can I Blame You?) - Another song with guitar influences with the pop beats. It's funny how in the past several years, several pop songs have used this basic conceit of "I'm sooo much hotter than everyone else, and all guys worship me" (examples: Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha", 90% of Paris Hilton's catalog) without any of the obvious sarcasm. I wouldn't be shocked if this was another Matrix song, though my copy doesn't have writing credits (Melissa co-wrote all of them, though).
Ahh, record label politics ruin a fantastic album and an artist with potential once again. However, I must admit that even if Jive had had the balls to give this album a full release, it probably wouldn't have gotten the fair shake and attention it deserved. While not very experimental in its sounds for the most part, the words go beyond the typical teen pop norms, while still maintaining a sense of humor.
Bonus track: He Blinded Me With Science - A pronoun-modified cover of the Thomas Dolby track from the '80s, coming from the Jimmy Neutron soundtrack. It stays true to the original (including the "SCIENCE!" yells) while giving it a modern (at least circa 2000) feel. The soundtrack also features a decent Kim Wilde cover by No Secrets and several songs by Aaron Carter, all of whom were signed to Jive.