Marketed and distributed by Universal Music

It has been a few years since we last heard from Macy Gray; one of the most unique and instantly recognisable voices pop music has ever presented. The quirky singer recently released her new album, Big, and if you’re hoping for anything resembling I Try or Sexual Revolution, you might be dissapointed. Big was produced by (of Black Eyed Peas-fame) and Ron Fair (most recently responsible for Mary J Blige’s massive Be Without You) but instead of making use of the cutting-edge hip-hop sound he is renowned for, Big offers a much more soulful, jazz-tinged retro pop sound that works surprisingly well with Gray’s voice. The album opens with the fantastic Finally Made Me Happy, a classy middle-finger to an ex hoping to get back together, which features the brilliant Natalie Cole on backing vocals. Shoo Be Doo is a lovely R&B song with a retro edge, while Glad You’re Here (with Fergie doing backing vocals) is a pop gem. Strange Behaviour offers a rare moment of humour with Slowly being one of my favourite tracks on the album – a classic pop song that highlights Macy’s distinctive voice. I also loved the super-funky Get Out (with Justin Timberlake) and the catchy Treat Me Like Your Money, the only track that actually features’s voice. It’s not easy to make your mark in music if you don’t have a pop-friendly voice, but Macy Gray proved years ago that you can. Big is a departure from the radio-friendly pop and funky hip-hop I expected. It is however a welcome return to the music scene for Macy. Whether fans will enjoy this new style remains to be seen. In my opinion, this is her best work to date.


Marketed and distributed by SonyBMG Music Entertainment SA

It sometimes feels as if Avril Lavigne is my personal lyricist: there have simply been too many situations in my life to which her songs provided the prefect soundtrack. Her debut album, Let Go, has offered the most familiar songs – tracks like Complicated, Sk8er Boi and I’m With You – spurring the album on to sales of over 13 million copies. Her second release, Under My Skin, was even better – a feat not many artists with huge debuts can claim. Whilst Keep Holding On (from the Eragon soundtrack) provided a taste of what was to come, the wait for the third CD has been considerable, fuelling my concern that her marriage might have softened her up. Fortunately it hasn’t and now Avril’s new studio album is here, quite aptly titled The Best Damn Thing. I don’t think anyone expected a first single quite as brilliant and successful as Girlfriend though. In fact, the song gave Avril her first ever number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and with good reason: it’s a clever fusion of Avril’s trademark skater-punk style and cheerleader pop, a combination that is downright infectious. The bulk of the album consists of similar tracks, the title track being yet another brilliant interpretation of this new style. However, the ballads haven’t been left behind and the second single, When You’re Gone, is probably the best love song yet from her, with the tracks closest to the sound we’re used to being Runaway and Contagious. It’s a short album though – only 12 tracks, at just over 40 minutes. I wouldn’t have minded at least four more songs. However, The Best Damn Thing is the funkiest collection of Avril Lavigne songs to see the light of day, and her best offering yet.


Marketed and distributed by Universal Music

When it comes to hit-maker producers, today’s leader of the pack is undoubtedly Timbaland. Born Tim Mosley, Timbaland first came to prominence in 1996 when he pinned down his trademark sound on Ginuwine’s debut CD. However, Tim and good friend Missy Elliot only hit the big time when Aaliyah’s second album, One In A Million, went on to sell 11 million copies, making Aaliyah, Tim and Missy household names. He took a breather after Aaliyah’s tragic death, but came back with a bang when Justin Timberlake left N*Sync, released Justified and topped the charts with Cry Me A River. The rest, as they say, is history and today Timbaland is known world-wide because of his chart-topping work with Timberlake and Nelly Furtado. His “solo-collaboration” album, Shock Value, is testimony to the brilliance of his voice, sound and production skills, and also confirms that his genius is not limited by genres. His collaboration with Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake, Give It To Me, topped charts globally, and the rest of the tracks are almost sure to follow suit. I was particularly impressed with Release (also with Timberlake), Scream (with Keri Hilson and Nicole Scherzinger from Pussycat Dolls), Bombay (featuring Amar and Jim Beanz), Time (with She Wants Revenge), One And Only (with Fall Out Boy) and 2 Man Show (with Elton John). If Shock Value is an interlude, his next set will prove that Timbaland’s ongoing wave of success is far from breaking: he has produced three of the songs on Bjork’s forthcoming album and it has been confirmed that he is producing on Madonna’s new CD, due later this year. Shock Value is slick, infectious and inexplicably sexy, and in my opinion one of this year’s must-have R&B/soul albums.


Marketed and distributed by Universal Music

You might not immediately recognise Robin Thicke (when he released his debut album in 2002, he had much longer hair). The CD received wide critical acclaim but significant sales and chart success didn’t follow despite awesome songs like When I Get You Alone and Brand New Jones. His brand of neo-soul and pop was possibly not very understood, but fortunately a few artists took notice. Usher used him on his Confessions album (for which Robin won a Grammy), while Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes signed him to his new record label, a relationship that nurtured Robin’s natural talent and is the main reason we have The Evolution of Robin Thicke today. It’s a collection of pop, R&B and neo-soul tracks with only one common thread: their sheer sexiness. This sensuality often lies in the songs’ deep, groovy beats, most evident on tracks like Got 2 Be Down (with Faith Evans), All Night Long (with Lil’ Wayne) and Cocaine. Complicated, Would That Make U Love Me and Ask Myself are also worth a mention. However, if you really want to feel the sexiness, it’s the minimalist, piano- or guitar-driven songs that will leave you weak. Lost Without U is insanely steamy, as are Can U Believe, 2 The Sky, Angels and Lonely World (lyrically the best song on the album). The Evolution of Robin Thicke peaked at number five on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, reaching number one on the R&B/Hip-hop chart. Unfortunately, I doubt whether it will see the same level of success in South Africa, where mainstream sensibility rules the airwaves. The Evolution of Robin Thicke is one of the mo

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  1. Another Christo
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