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Entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from rocker Mark Thorburn, Idol made good Guy Sebastian, the ever-controversial Eminem (and friends) and a shameless cash grab from one of the greatest bands of all time.

New Album by a New Artist

Mark Thorburn: Dancing Backwards

Mark Thorburn grew up listening to his mother’s record collection, including classic bands like Queen, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and ABBA, but it wasn’t until he stumbled across the Rolling Stones that he really found his calling.

Inspired by the iconic Stones album Sticky Fingers, Mark took to music with a passion, forming his first band at age 13. His obsession with the Stones continued into adulthood, leading to a number of face to face encounters with his idols. He has jammed with Mick Taylor, got drunk with Keith Richards and chased Mick Jagger up a flight of stairs.

Dancing Backwards is Thorburn’s debut album, recorded at a home-built studio in Scotland. Self-funded, self-produced and self-mixed, this album is truly a labour of love. In a move that both pays homage to the past while accepting the commercial realities of the present, Dancing Backwards has been released on vinyl and digital download — not a CD in sight.

While the classic rock influences on Dancing Backwards are strong, Thorburn has added a layer of depth and modern sensibility to the sound — more complex and less derivative than bands like The Strokes or The Darkness, but with an equally engaging sound.

The vinyl release is limited to 250 copies which come signed and hand-numbered, along with a free digital download. Speaking about his love for the format, Mark says:

'At home I only listen to music on vinyl; an album isn’t an album unless it’s on vinyl. I need to be able to smell it!'

Best tracks: If I Only Knew, Had To Have It, Stop the World

Sample lyric: ‘I’m not impressed with the state of the nation.’ (Stop the World)

Verdict: 8/10 — an exceptional debut from an artist to watch.

Order the album here.

New Album by an Old Artist

Guy Sebastian: Madness

As the winner of the first series of Australian Idol, Guy Sebastian has the distinction of building a career beyond RSL and Westfield appearances — something that can be said about very few of the singers that followed in his footsteps.

Since winning the greatest of all karaoke contests back in 2003, Sebastian has released eight solo albums, a dozen top ten singles and six number ones. He has also been nominated for 24 ARIA awards and won four, including Best Pop Release and Best Live Act.

He’s come a long way from here:  

Madness is, at its heart, a pop album, with soul and R&B influences adding light and shade to the listening experience.

Having written much of the album himself over a 2 year period, there is a level of maturity to Madness that hasn’t been evident on previous albums, including songs about relationship problems and self-doubt.

Apart from being a singer, songwriter and father, Sebastian also seems to be a super-nice bloke, overjoyed to finally get the international break that he has been working for.

The break in question came from his collaboration with rapper 2 Chainz in the form of international hit Mama Ain’t Proud:

Even if you’re one of those people who treat reality singing shows with contempt (welcome to the club) I would encourage you to check out Madness — it could well be the point in time where Guy Sebastian goes from an Australian success to an international superstar.

Best tracks: Mama Ain’t Proud, Like a Drum, Alive

Sample lyric: ‘I would crawl even though I could fly.’ (Alive)

Verdict: 7/10 — a mature album with a couple of standout tracks.

Album I Expect to Suck

Eminem: SHADYXV

Generally speaking, Marshall Mathers is not a happy chappie. He has faced ongoing problems with substance abuse, his lyrics have been called homophobic and misogynistic and he was recently called out for saying in a freestyle rap that he’d punch Lana Del Rey in the face.

The artist better known as Eminem has released eight studio albums, 40 singles and has sold over 172 million albums worldwide. He has also starred in a semi-autobiographical movie (8 Mile) and was in the running to play the lead in the film Jumper, a part which ended up going to an actor carved entirely out of wood, Hayden Christensen.

Accompanied by a plethora of his Detroit homies, Eminem has just released SHADYXV, a double album including a greatest hits disc and another of new material. Released to commemorate 15 years of Shady Records, the album includes tracks from D12, Yelawolf, Bad Meets Evil and Slaughterhouse, although it’s probably fair to say that none of these tracks would see the light of day without the influence of Eminem.

Of the two discs, the Greatest Hits selection is by far the pick of the bunch, featuring tracks like Purple Pills, Fight Music and an interesting demo version of Lose Yourself. By comparison, most of the new songs are little more than partially thought-out demos that would benefit from a rewrite and the production of frequent collaborator Dr Dre.

It’s apparent that Eminem is using this SHADY XV to expose some of the lesser known artists on his label, but this release does them few favours — it’s clear that Eminem is the star and everyone else is the sideshow.

Best tracks: Purple Pills, Lose Yourself

Sample lyric: ‘Something just ain’t right with me, dog.’ (SHADYXV)

Verdict: 4/10 — only for true fans of Eminem and Shady Records.

Shameless Cash Grab of the Week

Queen: Forever

I must admit, I was somewhat sceptical when I saw a new Queen CD on the racks of my favourite music retailer.

‘New Queen?’ I thought, ‘With Freddie on the cover? I am somewhat sceptical.’

But even so, I picked up said CD and purchased it, intrigued by the promise of three new songs.

Unsurprisingly, Forever was put together by guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, neither of whom miss an opportunity to cash in on their legacy (Five, anyone?). A little more surprising was the return of bassist John Deacon, who gracefully retired from music in 1997, six years after the tragic death of Freddie Mercury in 1991.  

Despite the return of Deacon, the so-called new tracks hardly live up to the hype, with two of the three released in almost-identical formats on Freddie Mercury solo albums. The Michael Jackson duet There Must Be More To Life Than This first appeared on album Mr Bad Guy back in 1985, while the ballad version of Love Kills is barely different from the original.

The exception is Let Me In Your Heart Again, a track written for the 1984 album The Works but dropped from the final release. While the song itself isn’t bad, it’s nowhere near the quality of most other Queen songs, and seems unlikely to have been released if Freddie were still alive.

Apart from the new tracks, Forever is a collection of Queen ballads, some of which will be unknown to casual listeners. Classic tracks like You’re My Best Friend and Somebody to Love are balanced with songs like Spread Your Wings and Lily of the Valley, making this a good album to put on in the background at a dinner party.

Freddie Mercury remains one of the greatest vocalists and frontmen of his generation, but Forever is little more than a seasonal cash-in more suited to artists like Michael Buble or Human Nature.

Best tracks: Somebody to Love, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, ‘39

Sample lyric: ‘Open up your mind and let me step inside.’ (Play The Game)

Verdict: 6/10 — nothing new of value to true Queen fans, but might be a nice xmas gift for your slightly cool auntie.

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