A look at some of the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts. This week: Idlewild, Kem, Cradle Of Filth, and Pepe Aguilar.
Welcome to Breaking & Entering, a weekly column launched with the redesign of Billboard.com. Each Wednesday, we'll take a look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.
IDLE NO MORE: One listen to Idlewild's "The Remote Part," and it's clear the Scottish band has matured. The group's 2000 album, "100 Broken Windows," opened with scrappy guitars that swelled to the hurried chorus of "Little Discourage," in which Roddy Womble's incensed yell made him sound like a younger, angrier Michael Stipe.
"The Remote Part," however, begins with a gliding melody that leads to the sing-along chorus of "You Held the World in Your Arms." Womble's scream is gone, and in its place is an understated string arrangement. The song became an unexpected hit in England, and helped the band's third Capitol album debut last year on the British album chart at No. 3. While the single was a success, Womble admits to initially being fearful of adding an orchestra.
"It's something we always shied away from," Womble tells Billboard.com. "I'm skeptical of bands that use string arrangements to make a mediocre song suddenly sound emotional, but 'You Held the World in Your Arms' is a great song without the strings, so the orchestra was just the icing on the cake."
"The Remote Part," which was released recently in America and arrived last week at No. 37 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart, sees the band smoothing out its arrangements and putting a larger emphasis on melodies and hooks. The reference point is still American indie rock, but whereas Idlewild used to meld early R.E.M. with Fugazi, the group's increasingly complex arrangements are exploring its pop tendencies, reminiscent of recent material by such cult U.S. acts as Jets to Brazil and the Get Up Kids. Add in Womble's poetic vocals, and the end result is arena rock for English majors.
"We had written enough songs like those on '100 Broken Windows,' so we took a conscious decision to make something different," Womble says. "Six years in, we've made our first record that has a really confident sound to it. I think that's why it took off in Europe. A lot of our stuff has a sort of nervousness to it, and we still have that live, but there's something grander about 'The Remote Part.'"
Idlewild will be opening a handful of dates on Pearl Jam's ongoing North American tour.
KEMISTRY 101: Detroit-based soul singer Kem has been spending the past few years waiting tables and singing top-40 covers in a wedding band. In his spare time, he financed, recorded, and produced his debut album, "Kemistry," self-releasing the effort last year.
A steady presence on the R&B club circuit in the Midwest, Kem earned himself a following in Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland with his jazz-inspired bedroom grooves. Yet what truly sets the artist apart is his expansive voice, which he uses as an instrument to play give-and-take with a sax in one instant, and sneak down under the bass the next. Motown Records, once the defining sound of Detroit and now an imprint of Universal Music Group, took notice and signed Kem to a multi-album deal.
The album has been slyly working its way through Billboard's charts, having spent five weeks in the bottom half of The Billboard 200, and hovering around the top-10 of the Heatseekers chart. Kem, with an adult-pop sound that should appeal to fans of Maxwell and India.Arie, has also worked his way into the top-50 of the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally, and has sold nearly 30,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. That number is made all the more impressive by the fact that his single, "Love Calls," has received little airplay outside the Midwest.
THANKS, OZZY: The summer metal behemoth that is Ozzfest has jump-started the careers of Disturbed, Godsmack, Papa Roach, and Linkin Park, among others. While the 2003 edition has yet to launch, the fest already appears to be adding some fire to Cradle of Filth's decade-long mainstream pursuit. The British metal collective has growled its way through five albums, and inclusion last year on England's one-off edition of Ozzfest brought the hardcore crew some much-desired attention, helping to score the band a coveted slot headlining the second-stage of this year's tour across the U.S.
Sony snatched-up the band for its Red Ink label, and the resulting album, "Damnation and a Day," found its way onto The Billboard 200 last week at No. 140 with 7,700 albums sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Not only is "Damnation and a Day" the band's first appearance on the chart, but Sony's support finally allowed the group to record on a larger scale. For the 77-minute album, Cradle of Filth brought on a 40-piece orchestra and a 32-piece choir from Budapest, injecting the band's loving odes to Satan with some Broadway oomph, and bringing Cradle of Filth one step closer to its Alice Cooper desires.
HOLA PEPE Already a household name in his native Mexico, Pepe Aguilar has teamed with Univision Records for his latest, "Y Tenerte Otra Vez," and the album is already positioning itself to become the next crossover hit from the Latin community. A respectable No. 155 debut last week on The Billboard 200, with nearly 7,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, has given the mariachi-influenced musician his first appearance on the big chart.
The son of legends Antonio Aguilar and Flor Silvestre, Aguilar has been performing since the age of 3. His vast string arrangements and light vocals give Aguilar a traditional, radio-friendly sound with a romantic flair. Indeed, the artist has already snared a Grammy award, and his 2001 album, "Lo Mejor de Nosotros," released on the independent Musart/Balboa label, has sold nearly 90,000 copies in the U.S.