The stars have finally aligned for Ness Ness. She's driving her lesbian fanbase wild with a sexy new look, recently celebrated her first #1 hit and, most importantly, finally delivered the brilliant album she's been threatening to unleash since her debut way back in 2000. "Hazardous" really takes things to the next level. It blends the soulful elements of "Somewhere In The Real World" with a more contemporary pop sensibility (courtesy of Swedish producers MachoPsycho) to stunning effect. To be honest, it's a familiar formula. Dr Luke and Max Martin perfected the power pop/rock genre working with the likes of P!nk, Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson but this is one of the rare examples of someone jumping on a bandwagon and accidentally finding their true calling. Kind of like when Dannii stopped pretending to be Janet Jackson in the mid 90s and went on to revolutionise popular music as we know it. Despite undeniable similarities with the aforementioned divas, "Hazardous" still sounds fresh and original - largely due to Vanessa's powerhouse vocals, endearing sense of humour and quirky lyrics. After all, this is an album that features songs about masturbation, dating drug addicts and extraterrestrials! Ness Ness takes to her new genre like a slut to cock and the result is my favourite album of 2009 (thus far). Here's my track by track review:
This Is Who I Am - 10/10
I think I've already written enough about the album's cracking lead single. Several hundred listens on and I still not sick of it. Just remember to close your eyes and pretend the hideous video is bad dream. Vanessa's recent #1 hit is a definite contender for my single of the year.
Mr Mysterious - 8/10
Just between you and me, I think MachoPsycho stole the bassline and crunchy guitars from P!nk but I'm willing to turn a blind eye given the overall quality of their production. I love the vocal layering and subtle hooks, not to mention the electronic flourishes and catchy "woah woahs". This is the perfect sound palette for Vanessa's effortless rock chick twang and she vamps it up for all she's worth. My only criticism is Seany B's (best known for TV ROCK's "Flaunt It") pointless rap. It's desperate and more than a little embarrassing.
Holiday - 8/10
Now, this is an unexpectedly camp delight. Vanessa's Swedish producers show their versatility by concocting a breezy summer party jam. The track automatically makes me think of Dannii sunning her baps in Ibiza but knowing Ness Ness it's probably about spending a weekend at the Coffs Harbour Motor Inn. Anyway, "Holiday" is perfect radio fodder for the warmer months and I get tingles in unexpected places when Vanessa moans "we all have needs". High quality filler.
Hazardous - 10/10
The album's first non-MachoPsycho produced unexpectedly turns out to be one of the highlights. "Hazardous" closely follows the Max Martin/Dr Luke recipe of synth driven pop/rock with a guitar heavy chorus and electro-tinged verses. It's been done before but why fuck with a winning formula? What makes this considerably better than many of the songs it's so clearly modelled on is the strength of the songwriting and Vanessa's amazing vocal delivery. Moving from soft and wistful in the verses to smoky and explosive in the chorus - "Hazardous" showcases one of the best voices in music.
Off On My Kiss - 7/10
Ness gets a bit sexy on this one but it's perhaps the album's least appealing moment. The song has an insistent beat and the chorus is cute but "Off On My Kiss" suffers from over-production. Making Vanessa sound computer generated should constitute some kind of crime but it's hard to be annoyed when you're happily humming along with inane lyrics like "I'll get you off on my kiss".
Show Me How To Love - 7/10
If I have one major criticism of "Hazardous" it would be that the second half is considerably stronger than the first. The first time I heard the album I was starting to lose a bit of enthusiasm at this point. Fans of "Somewhere In The Real World" will devour "Show Me How To Love" but I could do without the flashback. Co-written with frequent collaborator Pam Reswick, the track re-visits the soulful ground covered on Vanessa's last album. It's nice to hear a ballad that Ness can get her teeth stuck into after so many uptempo tracks but this is no "Perfect". Pleasant but slightly boring.
Aliens And UFOs - 8/10
Vanessa's ode to the supernatural gives me the giggles. Poor Ness has clearly spent too many nights smoking pot and watching X Files but, really, who hasn't? I like the song's slightly rockier feel and MachoPsycho add their usual polish to the production. The highlight for me is the catchy chorus, with the quirky spoken interlude about Vanessa's super powers coming a close second. This is basically a hot mess but I love that Ness has mixed it up and tried new things. MachoPsycho have really helped absolutely everybody's favourite diva express her more eccentric side.
Summer Nights - 9/10
When I saw "Summer Nights" on the tracklist I secretly hoped it was an Olivia Newton-John cover because I'm really that sad. As it turns out, it's not but Vanessa's nostalgic tour de force is almost as good. I love the breezy mid-tempo production and the naive lyrics, which cover everything from sleepless summer nights to politically incorrect lollies. Speaking of the latter, I still remember buying those chocolate cigarettes from our school canteen! There's just something sweet and quintessentially Australian about this track. "Summer Nights" doesn't scream hit but it's a little gem all the same.
Touch Me - 10/10
This is the dirtiest Australian pop song since Dannii explored the weird and wonderful world of sitting on speakers (*cough*) on "Vibe On"! Needless to say, "Touch Me" is all kinds of fabulous. What did those dodgy Swedes slip our Ness before she sat down to write stunning lyrics about masturbation and getting horny "from the vibrations off the floor"? I demand an inquest. Poetic lyrics aside, "Touch Me" also boasts the kind of slinky beats and throbbing baseline usually only associated with urban pop stars. In fact, this masterpiece reminds me of the filth Prince used to write for Sheena Easton in the 80s. Put "Touch Me" in your sexy times playlist between "Sugar Walls" and La Toya's "Sexual Feeling". I dare Universal to release this as a single.
Baby's On Ice - 10/10
From masturbation to hard drugs, Vanessa is clearly on a roll. The first time I heard this I thought it was just another cheerful love song until I started paying a bit more attention to the lyrics. Lines like "he always comes back with his lips all chewed and cracked" and "if the sun don't shine that day that's even more reason to get hazed" are fairly subtle but Ness makes it clear she's singing about the joys of romancing a junkie with "he's not a bad person, he's just a little messed up". Songs about drugs aren't exactly rare but I can't remember one this chirpy. My favourite part is when the backing singers merrily break into "he's on ice, ice baby"! Wonderfully tasteless and politically incorrect.
Sleep With That - 7/10
You can basically copy and paste everything I wrote about "Off On My Kiss" for this song. It's a fairly appealing fuck you to a cheating boyfriend but the production is overbearing and Vanessa appears to have forgotten to write a chorus. "Sleep With That" isn't bad by any means, it just suffers by comparison with the rest of the album.
Higher Ground - 9/10
Pam Reswick makes a second appearance on the album but unlike "Show Me How To Love", this doesn't sound like a reject from "Somewhere In The Real World". While not reaching the glorious heights of "Shine" or "Perfect", "Higher Ground" still ranks as one of Vanessa's finest ballads and I wouldn't be surprised if it's a (very safe) single somewhere down the track. The song is beautifully constructed and Ness sounds amazing on it. She really lets loose and shows off her full range. "Higher Ground" is a reminder that while Vanessa can take P!nk and Katy Perry on at their own game, neither of them could pull off something like this.
Blow Me Away - 10/10
Co-written by Steve Diamond and Matthew Gerrard (Dulta's "Lost Without You" and Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway"), "Blow Me Away" is another perfectly crafted power pop anthem. Crunchy guitars blend effortlessly with pounding beats and the odd synth to produce one of the album's standout tracks. I'm a sucker for a catchy chorus and this baby is utterly ruthless. One listen and you're hooked. "Blow Me Away" has hit written all over it but I'd still prefer Universal to go with the title track or "Touch Me" (if they're feeling ballsy) next. The second half of "Hazardous" really is quite outstanding.
Snitch - 7.5/10
What a bizarre way to close the album. This languid jam has a soulful edge that wouldn't sound out of place on "Somewhere In The Real World" but the playful lyrics and experimental production are right at home on "Hazardous". I didn't know what to make of this the first time I heard it - particularly Vince Colosimo's bizarre contribution - but it's strangely catchy and a total grower. "Snitch" is also another example of the winning eccentricity that permeates the album, which is part of what makes it so special.