New albums by G.E.M,

Hong Kong-based singer G.E.M.
Hong Kong-based singer G.E.M.

By the time Hong Kong-based singer G.E.M. released her latest album, fans were already familiar with several of the tracks.

The star of the second season of televised contest I Am A Singer (2014) has been steadily releasing singles over the year and tracks such as Long Distance and One Way Road have topped music charts.

The ballad Long Distance is a winner with its cascading piano accompaniment and an earnest chorus: "I can get used to the long distance, love isn't always up to us/Would rather use a different way, to love you from afar."

All of the songs, wholly written by G.E.M., are catchy material that plays to her strength as a powerful and emotive singer.

  • ASIAN POP

  • HEARTBEAT

    G.E.M.

    Hummingbird

    Music

    3/5 stars

But the album feels like a disparate collection, its parts never quite coherent as a whole - which may be the reason for or the result of the piecemeal release strategy.

Boon Chan


Coldplay's seventh studio offering is an uplifting, joyous, tinsel- and rainbow-filled kaleidoscopic exploration of optimism, as lead singer Chris Martin celebrates moving on from his "conscious uncoupling" from Gwyneth Paltrow (who, oddly enough, features on backing vocals on the slow-burning track Everglow, where Martin sings "the light that you left me will everglow").

  • INDIE ROCK

  • A HEAD FULL OF DREAMS

    Coldplay

    Parlophone/Atlantic

    2.5/5 stars

But perhaps it is all too uplifting.

Like a newly single man ready to fall in love again, he even sings, "You make me feel, like I'm alive again" on lead single Adventure Of A Lifetime, a sparkly disco ditty evoking tropical holidays.

The drafting of Norwegian hit-making duo Stargate - who are responsible for Beyonce and Rihanna-type pop bangers - for producing duties shows in the overwhelming number of slick pop numbers.

But all this arms-open, carefree, dancing-in-the-streets-type positivity seems only to play to Martin's showman sensibilities - it does not quite showcase the abilities of his bandmates.

While it is a welcome 180-degree turn from their previous album, the brooding Ghost Stories, A Head Full Of Dreams strays too far away from the guitar-led indie rock that kicked off Coldplay's career in the first place.

They have careened so far off course with the slick pop that their indie-rock credibility seems to have vanished entirely.

Anjali Raguraman


Yes, this is that Seth MacFarlane, writer and creator of adult cartoon Family Guy and the foul-mouthed talking teddy bear in the two Ted movies (2012 and 2015). He also happens to be a Sinatra-phile and has produced a couple of albums.

  • JAZZ

  • NO ONE EVER TELLS YOU

    Seth

    MacFarlane

    Republic

    4/5 stars

Like his 2011 debut, Music Is Better Than Words, the new album, No One Ever Tells You, takes a leaf from the book of Frank Sinatra's classic Capitol records with the moody covers, the silky big-band charts and the ballad-heavy programmes.

Listen to the way he shreds the notes with a little vocal fry in Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye, or the canny employment of vibrato on the eponymous track, and you know he has been taking notes from ol' blue eyes.

But what sets him apart from, say, Michael Buble, who has a tendency to slavishly copy entire musical phrases, is that he has enough confidence to not just be a copycat.

His lyric storytelling is charming, although there are frayed moments, such as It's All Right With Me, where the slow tempo tips over into dirge-like territory because he misjudges the drawl.

Still, the results, for the most part, are thoroughly enjoyable. The Nelson Riddle-inspired charts are delivered with stylish ease by an ensemble well schooled in the swoonsome slides and swoops of that era's music. Not a big surprise, then, that this album has won a Grammy nod for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

Ong Sor Fern


Another New Year's Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic has been recorded for posterity.

  • CLASSICAL

  • NEW YEAR'S CONCERT 2015

    Vienna Philharmonic/Zubin Mehta

    Sony Classical

    88875035492

    4.5/5 stars

The 2015 edition was Mumbai- born conductor Zubin Mehta's fifth time on the podium and the theme was programmed around the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Imperial & Royal Polytechnic Institute in 1815.

That explains the engineering- themed works, including Johann Strauss the Younger's Accelerations Waltz (Op. 234), Electromagnetic Polka (Op. 110) and Explosions Polka (Op. 43).

Studious keepers of the tradition, the orchestra performs with refinement, precision and energy. This concert also unveiled five first performances at the New Year's Concert, including Student Polka (Op. 263) and An Der Elbe (On The Elbe, Op. 477), the last waltz to be premiered by Strauss himself.

A tribute to Mehta's origins also takes the form of Fairy Tales From The Orient (Op. 444), which hardly sounds exotic. Traditions die hard, so the orchestra shouts its new year's greeting before finishing off with the Blue Danube Waltz and Radetzky March. Very enjoyable and entertaining, as usual.

Chang Tou Liang


There are three world-premiere recordings in this survey of contemporary Chinese piano music by Hong Kong-born pianist Susan Chan.

  • ASIAN CLASSICS

  • ECHOES OF CHINA

    Susan Chan, Piano

    Naxos 8.570616'

    4.5/5 stars

Zhou Long's Pianobells (2012) is a play on tintinnabulation, simulating the sound of bells in ceremony and nature. Bass strings of the piano struck by the hand make startling contrasts with the tinkling of high treble keys. His Mongolian Folk-Tune Variations (1980) are more conventional in idiom, employing traditional Chinese melodies, as does his wife Chen Yi's Northern Scenes (2013).

Macau-born Doming Lam's Lamentations Of Lady Chiu-jun (1964) is an arrangement of an ancient Lingnan melody in variation form with the piano mimicking Chinese instruments such as the guzheng and pipa.

Canadian-Chinese Alexina Louie's Music For Piano (1982) and Tan Dun's Eight Memories In Watercolor (1979) are suites of short character pieces that are engaging and ear-catching.

Louie's pieces are impressionistic in feel, but with pedagogy in mind, while Tan's are childhood reminiscences based on folk songs and dances from his native Hunan, bringing to mind similar compositions by Bartok.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2015, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe