Two underrated albums

I have two albums in my iTunes collection that I think deserve a bit a positive press. The first I downloaded last year was a freebie called We Are Smug, by Darren Hayes (of Savage Garden fame) and Robert Conley.

Darren Hayes is a pretty arrogant little artist, who perhaps let fame get to him a little much. Since finishing with his Savage Garden partner and brand and launching off on his own, his career has fallen with every album, despite them being overall very good pop albums.

Darren Hayes suffers from a curse in that he’s known for writing cheesy pop love songs, and his voice often suits that style, but his art wants to take him in a more electro-alternative direction. In an interview, he sounded almost grumpy that his new album (Secret Codes and Battleships) had to be another sweet pop album, albeit (again) a very good one.

We Are Smug was done pretty much only by Darren and Robert, released as a free download on the net with no publicity or marketing, so Darren was free to let loose and create songs just like he wanted. And it shows – the album is more of a true mirror to Darren’s art and personality. It’s snarky and sarcastic, fun and risqué, full of experimental and old-school electronic elements, bewilderment at lost fame, yet unapologetic and brash. I love it.

Because it’s not promoted, only hard-core fans had probably looked for this album. It’s not generic pop music for the radio. But it’s well worth the download, not least because it’s still free.

The second is one I’ve just bought – Joe Jonas’ Fastlife. I’ve read a couple of reviews who said things like ‘he’s trying to be R&B’ ‘it doesn’t work’ ‘he doesn’t sound like he means what he’s singing’ ‘it falls flat’. Now I’m way too old to be a Jonas Brothers fan, but now that Joe Jonas is all growed up, I can at least be a Mr Joe fan. I reckon that most reviewers have pre-judged him “Oh look, a Jonas brother trying to make a real record.”

In reality, this is a very good pop record. Like Britney Spears (who he’s currently touring with), he’s harnessed a bunch of great producers and musicians to make his songs sound good. Unlike Britney, he can write clever, mainstream, catchy pop songs that work really well within the R&B/dance/pop pastiche that is applied over them.

So get over the whole teen-screaming J-Brothers thing and crank up Fastlife on the radio when you want a cool up-tempo beat and some smooth pop.

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