Archive for July, 2009

Spot on Shirley’s comeback

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

After last year’s concert and the release of two or three singles, Shirley comes back this year with a full Cantonese album. It’s been a while since her last effort in the studio, so expectations are understandably high. Was the album worth the wait?

Oh yes, it was. This is a new Shirley – fresh, modern and relevant, who can please long term fans as well as winning new (younger) ones over without disappointing or alienating either category. This is partly thanks to the great arrangements which complement and highlight the singer’s top notch vocals throughout the album, resulting in a product which feels both innovative and traditional at the same time.
Expect great sonic satisfaction as you scour through each track, brought to you by interesting soundscapes and clever beats which will feel fresh even after repeated listening.

Let’s now look at the breakdown by track, as usual:

1. Great production, if reminiscent of Timbaland’s style, which shows that Shirley and more importantly her voice are still fresh and relevant in 2009

2. Probably the best song on the album. Lovely melody delivered in style with a lot of emotions. Love the arrangement, especially the strings and guitar work. Instant classic

3. Ouch, the weakest link comes in at number 3. This song is a duet with Leo Ku Kui Kei which comes across as average. Probably the piece has been put here for commercial reasons, rather than artistic ones. Either way, this is probably the only “Skip candidate” on the album

4. And then, 山水 comes in… This is the contender to “best song” title. A cover of “Loneliness”, made famous by the Buddha Bar 9 chillout compilation. They didn’t do much here apart from changing the beat and putting on some beautiful lyrics (by 夏至). If something ain’t broken, don’t fix it, after all. It really moves me inside this song. Great delivery. Top marks and hats off to Shirley and the producers

5. A guitar pop number, similar in style to Rubberband, or Wong Ka Keung (黃家強) in style if you like. Another great arrangement, quite acoustic and standard Cantopop maybe, but pleasant nevertheless

6. Psychedelia time… I haven’t formed an opinion on this song yet. It’s almost a bossa nova mixed with trip hop. Not sure how to classify it, but an interesting song regardless, different from the usual stuff

7. Shirley turn Latin diva in this Tango. Another modern arrangement which shows off Shirley’s vocal abilities

8. After the latin parenthesis, we move to a song (a cover, rather) which doesn’t feature our Shirley much, relegating her to singing the chorus and leaving a monologue by Lee Heung Kam (李香琴) as the main showpiece. I really like this song, which was originally released on the “十二金钗众生花” album in 2008, though I’m not sure it belongs here

9. Another good arrangement and excellent delivery, yet the predictable structure of the song lets the piece down. Not too impressed. Possible “Skip candidate”

Remix time, to close the album, as it seems common practice nowadays:

10. 山水 remix. Excellent version of the song. Completely different to the “normal mix”. More Oriental in flavour, definitely worth listening. I prefer it to the original one as it’s miles away from the original song it covers, showing off therefore the creative qualities of the arranger

11. Remix of 天規, the first track in the album. I can see why they would want to put both version of the song on one album: both are excellent. I loved the rap intro (I think it’s Ghost Style, but I might be mistaken… he only raps a couple of lines, so it’s difficult to tell). This would be fit for international release if it had English lyrics

12. Mandarin version of 山水. Same arrangement (not the remix version). Not a fan, I think it sounds better in Cantonese, but makes sense to have it for the Greater China market. Not sure it belongs to this album tho. They should have made a Mandarin album in addition instead

Wrapping up, this is a top quality album which belongs to any music lover’s collection, whether they like Shirley or not – and for the record, I am not a Shirley fan, I prefer male vocals 🙂 – definitely worth listening to, again and again. If you buy it, you won’t be disappointed, though I suggest an open mind approach as people expecting standard Cantopop piece might be slightly disappointed by the shift of gear into the 21st century of this veteran artist.

That’s it for me, hope you enjoyed my review and see you again soon!

All the best from London,

Online Branding and Message

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

If you are running a business, you will naturally be concerned with branding. Branding is the process by which you differentiate your business from your competition. It also is the process by which you create a connection between you and your customers to build customer loyalty and trust. Successful branding goes beyond mere customer satisfaction and brand recognition. Successful branding is all about building and sustaining customer loyalty.

Whether your company’s presence in the marketplace is entirely online, or your business mostly takes place in the real world rather than the virtual one, it is in your best interest to recognize that the Internet is an incredibly powerful and cost-effective tool for branding.

The first thing you will need in order to brand your company and product online is fairly obvious—you need a website. Websites are remarkably effective branding tools. They are a better, more cost-effective way of building your brand than just about anything you can imagine. If you have a ‘sticky’ website, it will not only generate awareness and web traffic, but keep your customers coming back to your site. Great! You know where to start. But how do you make a sticky website that helps you promote your brand?

The first principle is simple, and works as well in business as it does in politics: stay on message. In other words, be consistent, and true to what your brand is about. Gimmicks to attract visitors to your site, such as contests and games, are effective in the short term at best. If they have no connection to what your company does, and what your business is about, they won’t help you. They won’t make your site ‘sticky’ and won’t reinforce your brand unless the gimmick relates to the core values of your company, and its products and / or services.

Using your website for branding requires you to be disciplined about staying on message. Building customer loyalty involves building customer trust. One way of enhancing trust before you ever sell a single product is staying on message. Your message, your theme, must be overwhelmingly clear, appealing and sensible. This may seem odd to you, but if you think about it in terms of some of the more illustrious brands in the world, it makes sense.

A good example is Apple Computer. Think of Apple in the 90s, and compare the company to Apple after the return of Steve Jobs. Before the return of Jobs, apple’s online presence was a shambles. It reflected the internal state of the company—they didn’t have a clear vision of what their product is, how it benefits customers, or who their customers would even be. They rigorously defended their profit margins at the expense of market share and brand integrity. Naturally, their market share plummeted, their brand became less meaningful, and sales tanked.

Compare this to post-Jobs apple: Jobs looked at the company, realized they had become marginalized, a boutique computer manufacturer. Jobs turned this into an advantage, and revitalized the product through embracing the niche market aspect of being a maker of boutique computer products, and emphasized the clubbishness and ‘cool value’ of Apple products. Now look at them.

The moral of the story? Choose the right message, and stick to it. Message drives web presence, not the other way around.

Bibi Zhou: Time

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Artist Name: Bibi Zhou
Release Date: 8th July 2009
Album Language: Mandarin