The new year has started, and with it comes the welcome return of soul music legend Chaka Khan, and the always-evocative Dido. Also releasing new singles are – the now 'mature' – boy band, the Backstreet Boys, mellow crooner Mike Posner and Egyptian film star Mohammed Ramadan. Here are our takes on the new material.
Hello Happiness by Chaka Khan
It has been a decade since Chaka Khan released an album, but the soul diva has not missed a beat. Hello Happiness – the title track of the new album – confirms her muse remains in rude health. This song is all about the groove – there is the assertive bassline, a four-on-the-floor beat, hand claps, and a synth-line similar to Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. Because she is all about capturing a vibe, there aren't too many lyrics cluttering the sound with Khan – whose voice is frailer, yet compelling. She's content to mostly ride it out by repeating the chorus refrain: "Music makes me sing/ Goodbye sadness/ Hello happiness." That's a message we can get on board with.
Friends by Dido
If the pop music of today is severely over-caffeinated, then Dido's brand is camomile tea. And anyone who enjoys their cuppa knows that making good tea requires a certain level of patience. That's the thing with Dido: on the surface level, her songs, such as latest single Friends, seem snooze-inducing. But dig deeper and you appreciate Dido's soulful vocals and delicate falsetto, while the brooding production is both tender and dense. Take your time and luxuriate in the flavours.
No Place by Backstreet Boys
I was excited for exactly three minutes and forty seconds with the BSB's new album DNA, to be released later this year. This was the duration of the stellar lead single, Don't Go Breaking My Heart, with its house-meets-disco vibe. The interest rapidly decreased with follow up singles, the soulless Chances and the latest salvo No Place. The latter sounds like a discarded Ed Sheeran number with all five members celebrating being home after "traveling around the world". You can tell they were aiming for a camp-fire sing-along feel, but No Place just left me cold.
Ana Mafia by Mohammed Ramadan
Here, the Egyptian actor and sometime rapper releases another dose of his egocentric pop. Make no mistake, practically of all of Ramadan's tracks, and especially videos, are glossy vanity exercises to showcase his pectorals, but you can't deny the sounds are insanely catchy. After the Shaabi flavour of last year's hit Number One, Ramadan returns his latest ear-worm Ana Mafia (I am Mafia). It is another display of his gruff flow that is buttressed by heavy Arabic percussion. The chorus, as you'd expect, is an incessant repeat of the title that bludgeons you into submission. It is all absolutely brainless, but since when was that a prerequisite for pop music?
Move On by Mike Posner
There was a time where Posner's song-writing chops were formidable, having co-penned hits for the likes of Maroon 5 (Sugar) and Justin Bieber (Boyfriend). But judging by the turgid new single it seems he gave his best material too early. The naff folk of Move On is eye-glazing in its mediocrity. Posner talks about doing nothing all day and wishing to see a Shaman before resolving to Move One somewhere. Utterly pointless.