MADONNA’S MDNA – IS THERE ENOUGH THRILL IN THIS PILL?

Madonna is back with her twelfth studio album, MDNA and the first not to be associated with Warner Bros. records since 1982.  The question is always the same:  what is Madge bringing this time around and does a Madonna record still carry the same weight it used to?

The answer is, mostly, yes.  While it doesn’t resonate quite as well as Ray of Light or even Confessions on a Dancefloor, MDNA certainly works both as a decent Madonna album and as a piece of dance-pop fair.  Madonna isn’t stupid; she knows what her fans want and incorporates that into what she wants.  And she wants to dance again.

Serving as the album’s executive producer, Madge calls on some of the top names in dance music to bring the beats and the result is a much heavier sounding disc than Confessions, but laced with enough pop influences to give her some decent crossover appeal.  While her co-productions with tech-house superstar Benny Benassi (“Girl Gone Wild” and”I’m Addicted”) work well, it’s actually her work with Ray of Light collaborator William Orbit (“Gang Bang” and “Some Girls”) that stands out here, especially with the harder-edged beats and synth lines that Mr. Orbit drops all over these tracks.

Some of the tracks that should otherwise carry the record do fall a bit flat here, notably the lead single “Give Me All Your Luvin'” featuring hit-generating guest superstar Nicki Minaj and MIA, with rather silly chanting and guest rhymes that really don’t add much to the song at all.  And this seems to be the biggest hole in the album’s plot:  the lyrics are unabashedly clichéd and not very deep and meaningful at all.  That being said, it’s a Madonna record.  If you’re expecting something out of Bob Dylan’s notebook, head to that section of the store.  Madonna does what she does best, creating a good, uplifting party atmosphere and encouraging her legion of fans to head to the dancefloor one more time.

While there may not be any classics on here that will stand the test of time, MDNA is a disc that probably contains more bang for your buck than half the other albums on your local top 20 chart right now.  A must for the dedicated Madge-head, and possibly a pass for the casual fan, you’ll no doubt have the refrain from “Girl Gone Wild” in your head for a few days, but probably not six months down the road.  Check out the deluxe edition for a bonus disc including five extra tracks if you like, but the last thing I need to hear is anything labelled as a “Party Rock Remix.”

***/5

Please post your thoughts and comments about Madonna’s new disc below and let us know how you feel about it!

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The Greatest Club Record Ever Made

For some it’s “Blue Monday” – New Order.  For others it’s “I Feel Love” – Donna Summer.  Everyone has their favourite, the one, the ultimate club track for life that will never lose its magic no matter what.

For me that track happens to be “Music Sounds Better With You” – Stardust.

Here’s a record that landed upon this planet like a nuclear bomb.  Its impact has been seen through countless imitators, but no one, NO ONE, has even come close to replicating the sound created by members Thomas Bangalter, Alan Braxe, and vocalist Benjamin Diamond.

I clearly remember the weekend it descended on Toronto.  I was watching the Electric Circus (this should bring back some good/bad memories for fans of dance music in Toronto) broadcast live from Canada’s Wonderland and the guest DJ for the show was none other than Chicago/Toronto house legend DJ Sneak, whose strong ties to Bangalter and the whole Daft Punk crew came through loud and clear during his set.  He simply played one record for his entire time on air:  Music Sounds Better With You.

I knew the record was something truly unique and special as soon as I heard it.  The formula was simple enough:  a pounding 4-4 kick drum, a disco loop and a very catchy vocal hook.  I won’t lie, I LOVE DISCO HOUSE and the fact that this was the only record Sneak played for his live set told me this was something I’d better add to my collection in a hurry.  Never mind the fact that I heard it AGAIN that night on the radio while moving my mom’s car.

The next day, I promptly made my way down to Toronto DJ institution Play De Record not even knowing the proper title of the track nor the artist.  Clearly, Eugene Tam and crew had been tipped off about this one(no surprises there) as a batch of 12″ vinyls bearing the iconic Roulé label and the simple title “Music Sounds Better With You” – Stardust were displayed very prominently upon my arrival.  As I was examining this somewhat vague single-sided pressing, the remaining copies were scooped up and paid for by about 6 other DJs who clearly had had a similar experience to mine.  I have never seen anything like that at any record store since, so I promptly paid for mine (the $14.99 import price being well worth it) and headed home to give this tune a proper spin on my home system.

My 12″ copy is now so worn from beating the hell out of it over a period of many years that you can hear the wear from cuing when you first put it on.  But back then, the first thing that hit me was the absolute THROB of a bassline that Bangalter and Braxe laid overtop of the sample (I’ll get to that in a minute) and how the arrangement was so simple, yet so very, very effective.  You could sing it, it was easy to groove to and Ben Diamond’s vocal hook stayed in my head for the rest of the weekend.  I spent that time mixing it into essentially every other house tune I had at the time, and MSBWY stuck out like a sore thumb for just how incredibly GOOD it was.

How the record came into being is a unique story unto itself.   The song was conceived in Rex Club, Paris, where the trio were playing a live set. If anyone out there has audio or video footage of this landmark event, please let me know!  Bangalter and Braxe created the instrumental, which Diamond instinctively sang the title words over. The next day they laid down the track in the studio, adding the sample of Chaka Khan’s “Fate”(explained in the video above). The group then wisely handed mastering duties over to Nilesh “Nilz” Patel at the Exchange in London.  RIP, our friend in house music.

The demand for the single, only available on 12″ initially, was so great that there were literally people lined up at the ferry docks in England waiting with cash in hand to buy copies as soon as they arrived from France.  The tune would eventually sell over 1 MILLION COPIES ON VINYL (let’s see that happen today) and let’s not forget the success it had with the CD single version (first disc in my CD wallet, every time).   I even went out and tracked down the Chaka Khan album the sample came from, What’cha Gonna Do For Me.  Great album, BTW.

The single spawned a host of imitators who essentially copied Stardust’s formula of house groove+disco sample+vocals(live or sampled).  Phats & Small had a hit with “Turn Around” as did Armand Van Helden feat. Duane Harden with “U Don’t Know Me”.  NOTHING, however, has ever come close to the magic of the original.  Countless bootlegs have surfaced, my favourite being the mash-up with Madonna’s “Holiday” by the Stuntmasters (played out many times by Bangalter himself), but the original, I’ve discovered, can work on so many levels with just about any kind of crowd that there really isn’t a reason not to play it to this day.

So whatever happened to Stardust?  Thomas Bangalter carried on his ingenious production methods with Daft Punk after turning down a reported $3 million deal to deliver a full Stardust album, stating he couldn’t possibly top MSBWY.  Alan Braxe came into his own as a producer and formed a successful collaboration with fellow Frenchman Fred Falke to deliver some of the best original productions and remixes that truly helped define the “French Touch” sound.  Benjamin Diamond release a solo album, Strange Attitude and was briefly a member of the short-live group We In Music.

What are your thoughts on this epic tune?  Please post your thoughts and comments below and let’s hear what you have to say about this timeless piece of house music.

ERIC PRYDZ TO RELEASE 3-DISC PRYDA SET IN MAY

Fans of Eric Prydz, who has produced some of the best pure progressive-house records ever under his Pryda alias, will finally see a proper CD release from the world-renowned DJ/Producer.

The 3-CD set, “Eric Prydz presents Pryda” will feature a mix of new material and classic Pryda anthems including “Pjanoo”, “MSBOY” and the set-destroying “2Night” to name a few.

The set is slated for release on May 21, 2012, and I’ll definitely be checking this out.  Check back right here on thekeytothehouse for an upcoming post detailing the massive success Eric Prydz has enjoyed.

Check out the full tracklisting and all info on the release here.

Welcome to my house!

Hello fans of great music around the world!

Let me welcome you to The Key To The House, a blog focused on the vast and fascinating world of electronic music with a focus on my favourite genre which, you may have guessed, is house music!

Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen countless records come and go, hits and misses, with a select few really standing the test of time.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be focusing on classic tracks and producers, the hottest sounds right now, and I’ll be providing some insights I’ve been able to gather during 20 years of playing this music.  I am always open to feedback and comments, so if there’s anything you’d like to see, please let me know.

If you’re a diehard fan of house music and are looking for a place that goes a little deeper and gives you the whole story behind your favourite tracks, then this is the place for you.  From French House to Canadian classics, there’s something for everyone here!

As always, you can send your thoughts, ideas, feedback and booking inquiries to bookshawnaustin@gmail.com.  I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts and building a community dedicated exclusively to electronic music and DJ culture.  I’m looking forward to interacting with all of you so now that you have the key, welcome inside the house!  All are welcome.