Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Live Blog The Chart!

Don't know what you're doing with your Tuesday night, but as my Manics singles ranking post went down so well, I've decided a live blogging of this week's UK Top 40 (in reverse order, of course) is how I'm going to spend mine. The chart's a curious thing, and an opinion-dividing measure of the country's musical tastes if ever there was one, especially in the face of changing trends around the way we consume our music. Come back here at 9pm to see the potentially shambolic rundown commence...

#40 Leona Lewis / Avicii 'Collide'
Well, despite months and months of force-feeding myself daytime Radio 1 on a daily basis, this one hasn't been known to particular torture me on such a relentless level as its contemporaries. Based around an initially unauthorised instrumental from Swedish DJ Avicii, it seems to show a repositioning of Lewis as a mature, sophisticated, electro-pop dancefloor artist, in comparision to the balladeering of yesteryear. Passable really, but take away that hypnotic piano hook, not a great song. Long after her 'X Factor' victory, it betrays something of a stylistic turnabout, much like the recent electro-tinged, Radio 2-playlisted Will Young single, which is on it's way shortly.

Jessie J 'Who's Laughing Now'
Typically neurotic offering from the 'Who You Are' album, complete with that infuriating vocal intro. A commendable anti-bullying message dealt with in the most cliched 'I'm a pop star now, so there' manner. There's a fifth single on it's way too. 'Do It Like A Dude' was refreshing, but the subsequent ninth-rate Lily Allenisms of subsequent releases have been as contrived as anything you may have come to expect from the Brit School. Six writers to come up with this. Song-writing by committee...
#38 Beyonce 'Best Thing I Ever Had'
Not bad for a ballad, and Beyonce's always seemed to be one of the few R 'n' B/pop artists capable of turning the tempo down but retaining hooks strong enough to maintain the interest and get under one's skin. Essentially a rock ballad, realigned to a pop song, like much of this countdown it's been around far longer than necessary, as the big hits of Summertime hog the places the 'alternative' acts used to house their new entries in. Tellingly, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds recently managed an incredible THREE weeks in the lower reaches of the Top 40, possibly owing to the placing of 'AKA...What A Life!' in some advert or other.
#37 The Wanted 'Glad You Came'
Another example of the sounds of the arse-end of summer hanging round well into the run up to Christmas, this former Number One represents a healthy, energetic move-away from the balladeering so associated with four blokes who don't play any instruments so they must be cunts etc. I liked it at the time of it's release, and it's carnival/trancelike feel adds to what I feel is a fairly great pop song. Considering.

#36 Nicole Scherzinger 'Wet'

Well, there's innuendo and there's open-mouthed blatancy. Must we peddle this to our children? 'Rip my clothes off...soaking wet...drown...let's get a little wet...I like the way you're working me out...body's getting super hot...waiting for the man...if you touch me there...you can start up a fire...pull me up in the shower...I love it when it gets so wet...filthy...dirty...I feel it all over me'. Highly melodic, uplifting, dance-pop anyhow. Noah and The Whale it isn't.

#35 Wretch 32 / Josh Kumra 'Don't Go'
An introspective, soulful offering from the former grime MC and his chorus-singing accomplice Josh Kumra. A former #1, it's not a million miles away from the feel of The Streets' 'Dry Your Eyes'. Lacks the unpredictable invention of a superior like Tinie Tempah, but it's the second passable downtempo moment of our countdown.

#34 Sean Kingston 'Party All Night (Sleep All Day)'

Not sure I've heard this one before, but it appears to be a Blue Square Premier version of 'I Gotta Feeling', with a thumping club-friendly beat and talk of 'breaking the rules'. This type of song has been done to death now. I had fun taking the piss out of this kind of 'isn't tonight going to brilliant'-themed electro/R'n'B anthem the other week, but I'll be buggered if the continued attack of them upon our undeserving ears isn't going to continue until Armageddon. Anyone would think the R 'n' B world had discovered synths. Not like them to bleed a theme dry, of course.

#33 Lady Gaga 'The Edge Of Glory'
It's been around for an age of course, but in terms of what Gaga was trying to achieve, even if it did seems like several songs were more formulaic Euro-house than genuinely daring, 'Born This Way' has matured into something of an enduring snapshot, with 5/6 classic singles, which may have initially lacked the punch of 'Just Dance' or 'Telephone' but certainly hangs together better than it's predecessor. Its release as a single rather coincided with the death of guest star Clarence Clemons, which added an extra layer of poignancy to proceedings considering its lyrical themes of imminent death, and it seems to have become an equally effective album closer and single in its own right. Yes, it's overblown and faintly ridiculous, but Gaga's never going to be our first subtlety port-of-call.

#32 Ed Sheeran 'You Need Me I Don't Need You'

First in a dual-pronged assault of horseshit, this second single from the supposedly edgy D.I.Y Sheeran, was admittedly something of a bolt out of the blue after the painfully earnest Mumford-do-social-commentary of 'The A Team', but despite the thick hip-hop beat, and rapid delivery of that syllable-heavy word sheet, I'm noticing a new level of punchabilty in every arrogant couplet from the man that cites that hugely uncompromising Blunt-esque songsmith Damien Rice as his major influence. 'Wikipedia!', 'YouTube!' in a songsheet may make you sound very contemporary and at the helm of an ever-accelerating youth culture, but they going to make you date faster than a Bros record. Current bugbear: 'They say I'm up and coming like I'm fucking in an elevator'. Grrr. That's the musical equivalent of the man who roars 'wonga!' in those 'I even have to pawn my fucking phone now' ads.

#31 Adele 'Someone Like You'

Yes, it' s STILL here. Pretty much an open goal, and yes, you're stuck with it for the rest of your life. Celebrations: 'I Gotta Feeling'. Tragedies: This. It's a story that's been told so many times, and one that will be repackaged over and over again until the end of human history. Didn't we get Sinead's version of 'Nothing Compares 2 U' 21 years ago? Undeniably a good track in terms of songcraft (probably) but, essentially the kind of record that you keep in your heart forever or doesn't touch you at all, and I can't imagine the huge over-exposure has helped.
#30 Rizzle Kicks 'Down With The Trumpets'
16 weeks on the chart, and given that tracks 40-31 consisted of the stale leftovers from Summer, it's no surprise to hear July's hit parade continuing an extended chart life well into October. Songs written with Summer vibes in mind don't generally translate well into a dark-and-pissing-down setting, and this is no real exception. However, it's nice to hear that the legacy of The Streets and Dizzee Rascal continueth in a not-too-displeasing fashion, and Rizzle Kicks seem to provide a very vibrant, English take on British hip-pop.

#29 Example 'Stay Awake'
With its trancey, dancefloor-friendly feel, generational call-to-arms theme and Nero production, 'Stay Awake' is something of an typical UK 2011 Number One. Not a patch on the more mysterious 'Changed The Way You Kissed Me', however, and it's an example of a certain type of song which seems to permeate the current pop climate generally starts to feel rather hollow and not a little irritating when you've sat through numerous takes on it on a wet Tuesday night, completely sober and feeling as sprightly as Dame Vera Lynn. One of those curious songs about being young that makes you feel every day your years, in the wrong setting.

#28 Emeli Sande 'Heaven'
The first, and maybe sole, classic of our countdown, like a captivating melancholic take on Magnetic Man's 'Perfect Stranger'. Not too distant from a 2011 'Unfinished Sympathy', there's an air of real melancholia and dignity that provokes comparisions to several 1990s high-watermarks. An Autumnal, rich, urban masterpiece comprising of majestic percussion, horns and a breathtaking vocal performance. After a recent daytime Radio 1 overdose, potentially the only record thus far I think I ever want to hear again.

#27 Florence And The Machine 'Shake It Out'
Second single from her forthcoming album, and already at a high advantage due to not being 'You've Got The Love', it's a mid-tempo, dramatic, stadium sized anthem of sorts, reminiscent of so many late 1980s/early 1990s pop-rock anthems that you can't quite identify one, but if I was to put it in a similar bracket to 'The Living Years' or 'Alive & Kicking' I'm quietly confident I wouldn't be a million miles off. Judging by the previous single, this is not going to be a minimal-sounding album. Epic, but that long ago ceased to be a guarantee of quality, especially post-Coldplay and the advent of beige pop.
#26 Adele 'Set Fire To The Rain'
I'm listening to a karaoke version of this track incorrectly labelled by Spotify as the version from 21, and I think I'm preferring it. For such an ubiquitous artist, it's unnerving how little there is to say about her. She's just completely intertwined in a world of collosally popular artists that scream inconsequence so loudly that it completely drowns out any original thought you might have about them. And that's because it's inoffensive in every way other than it's over-exposed. Which is quite offensive. Its appeal is understandable, but for me personally it's just impossible to identify with. I've only hit a brick wall twice in this rundown, and both times it's been because of Adele. Next!

#25 Marina & The Diamonds 'Radioactive'

Here's a first. A Marina record I really don't like. And I'm not convinced she does either. This is Marina in a contrived pack-chasing electro-pop mode that really doesn't suit her, almost as if her paymasters have attempted to drain her of all eccentricity, quirkiness and the hated aroma of 'indieness'. Her new 'Electra Heart' alter-ego is apparently an amalgamation of everything Marina despises, so if she's unleashing lacklustre generic pop songs via a wider statement that might make sense later, we can possibly forgive her, so the jury's out until we hear the album, but there's an air of reluctance and resignment about that.

#24 Lady Gaga 'You & I'

Initially average Shania Twain-esque country-rocker so knowingly cheesy that, in it's Mutt Lange production actually comes off quite well. Huge departure from the spinge-tingling synth-pop anthems we have come to expect, and works better as a single than it sounded on an album that seemed to drag towards the end until familiarity waved its inconsistent wand. Having proposed a run of 7-8 singles from 'Born This Way', the album isn't stripped of radio hits yet, and a return to the style of previous releases seems likely, maybe in the form of 'Marry The Night', though 'Scheibe' possesses something of a world-class chorus, despite being borderline unreleasable as a single.

#23 Will Young 'Jealousy'

First of a couple of high-charting singles that adorn this week's chart despite not darkening the Radio 1 playlist, 'Jealousy' is a reinvention of sorts that has given the Pop Idol winner something of a second lease of life and his most successful release in aeons. There was a time when a new synth-led direction was a move taken to court a youthful audience, but the tasteful, restrained, polished, late 1990s Pet Shop Boys of 'Jealousy' is a textbook example of what we now know as a resurgent, textbook example of an album-flogging Radio 2 smash.
#22 The Saturdays 'All Fired Up'

Far from the only example of the growing trend of late 1990s trance anthemics repopulating the chart, but perhaps the best, 'All Fired Up' evokes comparisons with both 'You're Not Alone' by Olive, and, of course 'I'm Not Alone' by Calvin Harris (it'd be rude if a song didn't incorporate a nod to that breakdown these days), and as such comes off like a lost 1997 dancefloor classic. Their second best single, and for an act who seem to have never truly taken off, they've had a few. 'Higher' still wins that particular contest though.

#21 Rihanna 'Cheers (I'll Drink To That)'
Turns out the idea I was going to be able to be able to live-blog these without pausing between tracks for a moment of peace and reflection was bullshit, but by my calculations I'm averaging a track every six minutes, which I don't feel is too bad. Anyway, if you aren't familiar with the 117th single from the last Rihanna album, and her 1278th overall, then it's her now typical restrained obvious album track promoted as a single anyway. Agreeable stuff, and featuring an interpolated Avril Lavigne sample unrecognisable from its original context, 'Cheers' is a song about getting arseholed basically, and not a bad one at that, but the air of 'final single from the album' is magnificently potent. Great pronunciation of the word 'bastards' however.

#20 Charlene Soraia 'Wherever You Will Go'
Yes, it's a cover of The Calling 'classic', and the latest in a burgeoning trend of female-vocalled, stripped-back, 'intimate' covers of average rock songs, after someone or other covered 'One Big Family' by Embrace to flog KFC, and Birdy's new take on 'People Help The People' by Cherry Ghost. Predictably enough, in reality it has the emotional power of a car park to cynical ears. I blame 'Someone Like You'. That Brits performance kickstarted a multitude of sins. This one's flogging Tetley tea by the way.
#19 Bruno Mars 'Marry You'
Typically stalkerish lament from the omnipresnent irritant. Not quite as hateful as 'The Lazy Song', and lacks an utterly antagonistic slice of wordplay like THAT 'really nice sex' passage, and you can always wake up and obtain a decree absolut if you wish, but I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him.

#18 Calvin Harris 'Feel So Close'
Hard to believe that Harris was considered something of a novelty artist back in 2007, when his work is now met with such high demand, and despite being yet another summer hit that would have evacuated the chart a fair old while ago if the charts weren't absolutely batshit crazy, 'Feels So Close' is a solid offering, which, whilst not on a par with 'I'm Not Alone' or 'Bounce', bodes well for the forthcoming album. Slightly minimal in terms of variation, but that guitar hook was both hypnotic and infectious on initial airings.

#17 Delilah 'Go'
Whilst we haven't quite seen the back of the brooding cover versions, the debut single from Delilah at least has the determination and foresight to do something interesting with the track it borrows from, adding its own refrains and passages to a dark and sparse, lightly percussive, spacey twist on Chaka Khan's 'Ain't Nobody', and to the best of my knowledge it's not the soundtrack to an advert, either.

#16 Nicki Minaj 'Fly (Feat. Rihanna)'
Relatively sober selection from the 'Pink Friday' album, lacking the eccentric bounce of 'Super Bass' and benefitting from the appearance of the workaholic Barbadian. It's a song about definance, and taking stock, and much like that earlier Rihanna appearance, it has the air of the end of a campaign about it. With it's low-BPM, scattery kick drums and light pads, it's a dreamlike track, that finds Minaj in a sweeter mood than usual, but it's not surprising it hasn't proved to be a huge hit.
#15 David Guetta 'Without You'
Starts off almost EXACTLY like 'I Gotta Feeling' with that four-chord sequence and the introduction of a persistent kick-drum that screams Guetta-by-numbers, before giving way to a melodic passage that doesn't actually sound completely predictable, prior to the emergence of a piss-weak, 'lovelorn' chorus. If there's anything this countdown has highlighted, it's exactly how formulaic charts hits are getting (as if they ever weren't) to the point that there only appears to be a handful of song blueprints to go round, and Guetta in particular seems to stick to one, which is frustrating considering his work on 'Who's That Chick?', and the essentially ignored 'Titanium'. Weak chorus, lazy arrangement, uninspiring lyrics, but the temptation to phone it in must be over-powering considering the ongoing commercial triumphs of the formula.

#14 Pixie Lott 'All About Tonight'
The 'tonight's going to be good' song that tipped me over the edge, with every ingredient needed to put in a strong application for a number one hit in 2011. Choppy, trancey synths, the afore-mentioned lyrical theme, the club-friendly pounding rhythms, the reflective breakdown. Someone needs to write a song detailing whether the much-hyped evening was the success that was so widely anticipated. Anyway, it worked, because it did top the hit parade.

#13 Ed Sheeran 'The A Team'
Earnest shite. If you're interested. the part that makes me want to throw myself through the window the most is.....(drum roll)......'for an-gels to fly'. Did I say patronising? Okay. Patronising, earnest shite.
#12 Christina Perri 'Jar of Hearts'
You can tell Christmas is coming when the power ballads start coming in. A piano-led break-up song, much like an American 'Someone Like You', but infinitely better, even if there's something unfathomably one-hit-wondery about it, much like 'A Thousand Miles' by Vanessa Carlton and 'Love Song' from Sara Bareilles. Well-timed to mark the arrival of more testing climates, and musically comparable to something simple, warming or a constant in your life, like a cup of Horlick's, an open fire or the ten-minute Television X free view.

#11 Olly Murs 'Heart Skips A Beat (Feat. Rizzle Kicks)'
Olly seems an agreeable guy, considering when I first encountered him in the X Factor live shows of 2009 I hated him on sight. It's again reminiscent of something I can't quite put my finger on, but I certainly think it falls upon the right side of UB40, and that is a rather stirring chorus. The jury's still out on Rizzle Kicks though. This chart totally needs a clear-out of the Summer detritus -  I like my songs to belong to a particular time, and this chart is looking rather stagnant. Hardly surprising the Manics have stated they've released their last hit single. Hold on, have we had an 'indie' band? Nope, not even Noah and the Whale, and I'm not even going to count Sheeran at knifepoint. It may even boil down to questioning the necessity of ranking how popular music is anymore. Who's just announced a date at Wembley Arena? Frank Turner. Where did 'One Day Like This' reach in the UK charts? No. 36. Exactly. It's all tossycock. The singles chart may as well just be the Radio 1 playlist, and the absurd amount of detail they go into when picking it after assessing surveys and looking at focus groups etc means it would probably be a more reliable barometer anyway.

#10 Bad Meets Evil 'Lighters (feat. Bruno Mars)'

Horrible, four-chord, sickening dreck, in which a post-retirement, neurotic, monotonous, obnoxious bell-end shares vocal duties with 2011's top pop creep in some sort of piss-poor attempt at a unifying anthem, complete with the ever-intolerable lyrical refrain of 'This one's for you and me...'. A stone cold 0/10 if there ever was one, 'Lighters' is a stomach-wrenchingly nauseating, empty piece of music which, if it graces the output of Radio 1 20 times a week, presumably emanates from the unbearable Radio 1-lite of Capital at least 80 times a day. I was quite a fan of Eminem in his Slim Shady incarnation, but what has reared its head since his completely predicted comeback circa 2009 is a horrifically self-obsessed, unlistenable ogre, whose rhymes seem to morph into a sense-assaulting grinding whirr. The worst record in the chart? Definitely. The worst record of the year? On course. A late addition to the forthcoming 'Hated Songs' rundown? It's only 'Not Afraid' that's stopping him. I wish Bruno Mars would take the hint and stop writing songs about his imaginary girlfriend.

#9 Jason Derulo 'It Girl'
What happened to being adept at writing a tribute to the object of your affections without sounding like a man on the cusp of receiving a restraining order? Not as offensive as anything Mars has touched, and that whistle-led hook is pleasant enough. A downtempo, strumalong compared to previous singles, Derulo seems more inconsequential than antagonistic, and 'It Girl' is an unobtrusive radio hit, and despite the line about looking under rocks and breaking locks for the girl who characterises the state of 'it' so well, it seems only fair to let him off with a caution. The previous single was much worse.

#8 James Morrison 'I Won't Let You Go'

Hmmm, EXTREMELY high hopes for this, or not. Is Morrison allowed a third album? I thought this would have picked up a 'do not pass go, go straight to Radio 2' card as soon as it left the studio, but...this is essentially Joe Cocker isn't it? It's a bit sweeping. It's a bit Motown. It's actually a bit Wet Wet Wet. It's definitely a bit Jimmy Nail. There have at least been 3 songs tonight that would have sat well on Now That's What I Call Music! 20. There was a bit there when I thought it was going to segue into 'My Girl' by The Temptations. It had no pretensions of edge. I would definitely, unequivocally and enthusiastically like to announce that I'd take that over 'The A Team' anyday. Oh, it wasn't on the Radio 1 playlist. How am I not surprised? Ken Bruce: the secret conductor of chart maneuvers.

#7 LMFAO 'Sexy And I Know It'

Or 'Fucking Wank And I Know It'? I've not knowingly heard this. 'Girls be lookin' like they be fly...look at that body....I WORK OUT'! This one's actually tuneless. I think it's got 303s in it, like we had in the big beat records of 1996. This is laughably turd. Funny they should mention wiggling, as it does remind one of an Outhere Brothers demo, before they littered it with obscenities. At least 'Party Rock Anthem' gave me something to hate. 3:15 in, still waiting for a hook. Oh, it's finished.

#6 Dappy 'No Regrets'

The overly-lengthed one's cathartic, redemptive statement of self-justification, and a plea for forgiveness of sorts it seems. Not actually as awful as it looks on paper, and one must concede that the chorus does at least mirror that of one that deserves its previous residence in the Number One spot. There's an odd, persistent theme of name-dropping in 'No Regrets', largely demonstrated thusly: 'I'm a changed man now...Chris Brown', 'I'm Kurt Cobain...I just couldn't do it...Back to the future...Marty McFly...flying with the birds, Richard Branson etc etc'. It's typical of what you would expect, a hollow plea for solitude buried within the paranoid, egocentric threat that the Dappy juggernaut will simply become more undeafeatable in the future, during which he reluctantly throws minimal scraps of half-arsed apologies for misdemeanours like this presumably in the faint hope that we'll give him the benefit of the doubt regarding allegations like this. He doesn't come away from this song looking much better than he was perceived previously. There remains the distinct fear that he'll wind up smelling of sugary roses.

#5 Goo Goo Dolls 'Iris'
Revisionist, X Factor-engineered entry for former #50 peaking UK chart hit which has gained popularity over here slowly over the years. Much like 'Don't Stop Believing' and 'Summer Of '69', 'Iris' did fuck all in terms of our chart overall until now, being the overblown, faux-Aerosmith saccharine ballad it is, until songs that sounded like a bastard crossbreed of Snow Patrol and Nickleback became the nation's favourite 'you're through to the next round!' anthem du jour. It did, however spend 18 weeks at the summit of the Billboard charts in 1996, in a pre-internet age where we had no idea what they were listening to over there until some bastard saw fit to tell us. Nowadays, we're more likely to cross the pond to inform them that their second-rate singers have no chance of signing a recording contract and therefore their worth as a human being is in disrepute. Anyway, after brief stints at 39 and 26, in 1999 and 2006 respectively, 'Iris' has finally hit the UK #3 spot, which means one of two things: 1) Thank fuck that's finally over with, it was bound to happen eventually or 2) This is just the beginning. Take your pick.

#4 One Direction 'What Makes You Beautiful'
'Boy bands, and another one, and another one', so sang boy band Busted in their shit 2003 hit, 'Year 3000'. Little did they know, but the ones that would be taking pride of place at the top of the chart just eight years later, pop pickers, would have finished not first, not second, but second runners up in the successor to 'Pop Idol'. However, at that time, the real kings of the boyband world were stool-stapled epic bores Westlife, and it would take the re-emergence of Take That to restructure the dimensions of the failing British boyband. The Wanted came first, of course, and in a world where the resurgence of the boyband was always an inevitability temporarily stemmed by 'indie' shitheads like 'your' Razorlights and Kaiser Chiefs, we'd rather have high-octane, melodic, 'Grease' borrowing pop anthems like 'What Makes You Beautiful' than 'Flying Without Wings' any given Sunday. I'm glad that I don't have to do that marks-out-of-ten thing though, it gets terribly restrictive.

#3 SAK NOEL 'Loca People'

Now, I like a dance tune as much as the next man, but 'Loca People' is a pointless novelty-house atrocity, whose only real characteristic at all is its 'what the fuck?' broken English, spoken-word sample. Flaty devoid of heart, melody, spirit, meaning, emotion, integrity or anything to get to grips with at all. It's a basic house track with only the slightest hint of a hook, completely moronic, funkless, soulless three-and-a-half minutes of utter, stupifying nothingness. And it's 2:05am, which means I've been at this for five hours and five minutes. Still, FOUR-THOUSAND, TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY WORDS last time I checked. Should have done this for charity, really.

#2 MAROON 5 'Moves Like Jagger'

'Moves Like Jagger', we meet at last. Another one sidestepped by Radio 1, this has somehow loitered around the top reaches of the chart for two months. Inevitably, it's exactly as imbecilic and banal as what you'd expect from a band that penned one of the most disgustingly schmaltzy tracks of all time, in the form of 'She Will Be Loved', and it's backed by a paper-thin, relevance-pleading disco beat and a guest verse from Christina Aguilera which both went towards its landslide victory in the 'Most 2004 Hit On This Week's Chart'. I knew it was going to be shit, but I never knew it was going to be this shit. I would imagine that the people that find they can really relate to the observations made in the lyrics of 'Moves Like Jagger' could well turn out to be the same individuals who first encountered the lines 'She's pretty, a fitty, she's got a boyfriend now and that's a pity' and didn't hatch a thwarted plan to divorce their author from his testicles. Just a thought.

#1 RIHANNA 'We Found Love (Feat. Calvin Harris)'
FINALLY! Second appearance of Calvin Harris on the chart, and third from Rihanna. It's an unremarkable comeback single (just weeks after 'Cheers....') but a solid one, if it does rather sound exactly how you might expect it to. The forthcoming Rihanna album will be her third since Autumn 2009, and though I'm unfamiliar with the albums, the run of singles has been rather extraordinary on the whole. Alarmingly prolific, just like Gaga, if Rihanna's chart-hogging does anything to prevent the attack of beige threatening to completely infiltrate the pop scene, it's a welcome, and fantastically quick turnaround of new material, considering the gap between albums from any artist has been accepted as stalling at the two-years-or-over mark over recent times. If 'We Found Love' sounds rather underwhelming, its worth remembering that the follow-up singles from her last two albums have been far more instant than the lead singles, with 'Rude Boy' succeeding 'Russian Roulette' in early 2010 and 'What's My Name' following 'Only Girl In The World' more recently. Congratulations to Calvin Harris too, it was being ripped off by Chris Brown that did it!

And after five hours and thirty-two minutes, I'm going to bed. This is your number one:


Friday, October 7, 2011

Erasure: 'Tomorrow's World'

Okay, so I'm allowed to duplicate stuff I wrote for Muso's Guide, as long as I acknowledge its original home. I've written on and off for them for almost two-an-a-half years now, and there's a wonderful standard being set over there, and I'm glad I've been allowed to remain a part of the website all this time. They can be, of course, found here.

Anyway, in lieu of my writing anything on here yesterday, here we go with something peculiar: an Erasure album in 2011. Could it hold any relevance?

ERASURE: 'Tomorrow's World' (Mute)

With their insanely brilliant run of classic pop singles released between 1985 and 1992, all collected on their classic compilation Pop! The First Twenty Hits, Erasure were once one of my favourite acts. Having lost touch with them sometime around 1997, after their singles became outstandingly ordinary, it’s odd to reflect how the prospect of a whole new, modern-sounding album by the synth-pop duo could leave me feeling so distant. After ten years of covers albums, acoustic albums, another omission-heavy hits album and an updated version of the afore-mentioned singles collection (I remember the drop in quality heading into the middle of the second disc being horrific) and less-than-glowing reviews of studio albums, can an Erasure album have any relevance to 2011?

Enlisting Frankmusik on production duties, comparisons to the last Xenomania-produced Pet Shop Boys album immediately spring to mind. That album, though patchy in places, had a contemporary crispness to it, and though the songwriting was not consistent to a 1980s standard, it contained two or three tracks that sat happily alongside some of their best material. Meanwhile, Depeche Mode have continued to release extremely strong material over this period, whilst other contemporaries such as The Human League have somehow slipped to the Here and Now circuit.

The first thing to note is the change in Andy Bell’s voice. Not only is it almost drowned in stone-cold autotune throughout, but there’s a certain hoarseness to it that doesn’t sit well, which should come as a shock to anyone unfamiliar with their recent work. Opener ‘Be With You’, like much of the album, deals with a sense of unrequited love and loneliness. It employs an instantly memorable melody and classic pop chord sequence, but its exploration of these themes seems bland and simplistic.

Tomorrow’s World is a big, expensive-sounding album, and the glossy stamp of mixer Rob Orton (Lady Gaga, Kelis, Pixie Lott) is prominent, but the persistent, thumping club-friendly rhythms cannot mask the unadventurous songwriting and one-dimensional lyrics. It’s an album coloured with hunger, like a plea for significance long after the wider world stopped listening, but the whole affair seems contrived in places, and if the lyrics are predictable and generic, then there’s really little emotional potency.

Where the songs do hit home, it’s because the melodies are reminiscent of superior songs. Album highlight ‘A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot’ has a strong chorus, which appears to be half-inched from ‘Everytime We Touch’ by Cascada – hardly a credible influence, but not an entirely awful song, plus this is the level of brash cheesiness we’re dealing with here. Its trance-esque breakdown and trademark bleeps (courtesy of Vince Clarke’s warm, analogue synths) make for a rather convincing track, and potentially a far better lead single than forgettable, mid-tempo ballad ‘Where I Start To (Break It All Down)’. ‘I Lose Myself’ is almost classic Erasure, and a none-too distant cousin of ‘Who Needs Love Like That’, but again, only treads ground broken over two decades ago. ‘What Will You Say When I’m Gone’ is engaging in ballad terms, and contains a blissful concoction of pads and choppy trance synths, but there’s so little subtlety over the course of the nine tracks that Tomorrow’s World is sonically overwhelming, and not a little flat.

The more the album aims for euphoria, the emptier it feels, leading to an album that does sound fresh, but can’t carry insubstantial songs, making the whole proposition sound a tad desperate. ‘Then I Go Twisting’, the penultimate track, talks of ‘monophonic sounds’, but by this point the four-to-the-floor beats have become something of a musical bugbear themselves, not to mention the vague lyrics (‘Modern life’s so dull, more of the same old stuff, I don’t want to let you down’). They’ve never been particularly cryptic or leftfield lyrically, but there’s a bland laziness to the words that means the songs lack character, and I definitely don’t remember that being the case before.

In the race to belong in 2011, they seem to only fleetingly sound like Erasure. Also, the lack of melodic surprise and drama offered by Tomorrow’s World is something I’d never associated with their work. They set themselves a world-class standard in their early years, but it’s almost unfathomable how empty this album feels. I wanted to like it so much, but I see no real appeal outside of their remaining small, but hardcore fanbase.

*This review originally appeared on musosguide.com

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Manics Singles Rankings Update

The band's own personal rankings are out. You've seen mine now they're showing me theirs. Charts and graphs were to follow, but a simple list will suffice, as I've no idea how to do a graph that a) successfully compares the relationship between my chart and that of theirs (a timeline would have been very interesting, highlighting their massive bias towards their recent material) and b) doesn't look shit. This was the best I could do:

Anyway, for the ease of your eyes, below is their list from top-to-bottom (which has the unexpected additional appearances of 'Strip It Down' and 'Suicide Alley' - not included in mine as I expected them to merely rate the singles from 'National Treasures'. My rankings, which I pimped out to buggery to the tune of around 300 views so far (!) are here.

1. Faster
2. A Design for Life
3. Your Love Alone is Not Enough
4. Motorcycle Emptiness
5. If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next
6. Motown Junk
7. The Masses Against the Classes
8. (It's Not War) Just the End of Love
9. The Love of Richard Nixon
10. Suicide Alley
11. You Love Us
12. La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh)
13. Found that Soul
14. Kevin Carter
15. Ocean Spray
16. Some Kind of Nothingness
17. Roses in the Hospital
18. Love's Sweet Exile
19. Let Robeson Sing
20. You Stole the Sun From My Heart
21. Australia
22. Stay Beautiful
23. Postcards From a Young Man
24. Everything Must Go
25. Tsunami
26. Indian Summer
27. Theme from Mash (Suicide is Painless)
28. This is the Day
29. From Despair to Where
30. The Everlasting
31. Slash 'n' Burn
32. Life Becoming a Landslide
33. Autumnsong
34. Strip it Down
35. Little Baby Nothing
36. Empty Souls
37. So Why So Sad
38. She is Suffering
39. Revol
40. There By the Grace of God

Monday, October 3, 2011

Manic Street Preachers: Singles Rankings

The Manic Street Preachers will feature in this week's NME, listing their official UK singles i.e. the ones that feature on their forthcoming, almost-comprehensive (no 'Suicide Alley, 'New Art Riot' or AA-sides) hits collection 'National Treasures', in order of preference. Meanwhile, their Christmas gig at the 02 in London, will feature every single one of these, as they grimace through some their own bĂȘtes noires, such as 'Love's Sweet Exile', 'Revol' and 'The Love Of Richard Nixon', which any sane person would rather hear on a daily basis than the likes of 'Autumnsong' or 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart' even just once more over a 12-month period. To mark the occasion, I decided to compose my own chart, but rather than simply write a list off the top of my head, I marked each single on five different factors: How it sounded upon its first airing, how it sounds now, MSP trademark drama/poignancy (which can be a by-product of context, history and significance. Over-production and strings alone are not enough, not enough, not enough, however), lyrics (sorry, Nicky) and edginess (for they were initially very raw and uncompromising for a chart act, and have even been fleetingly audacious since Richey - the endearingly bizarre 'Nixon' being a very daring comeback single, from one of the few genuinely forward-looking latter-day campaigns).

I then summed up the average marks for each of the records, sorted them appropriately and discovered a rather interesting list. I tried a graph too but it wasn't working for me, unsurprisingly it consisted of a huge post-1996 plummet with a few resurgences. Unfortunately the reverse order thing doesn't look very good written down, so this chart goes from 1-38, with additional notes.


FASTER 1994 9.4 'Exhilarating, life-affirming, academic whirlwind of self-justification'
REVOL 1994 9.2 'Insane that this intensely uncommercial release hit #22'.
MOTORCYCLE EMPTINESS 1992 9 'Magical, iconic melancholia, devastatingly emotional'
EMPTY SOULS 2005 9 'Underrated, wintery and chilling with impeccably clean production'
MOTOWN JUNK 1991 8.8 'Archetypal early raw Manics, punk symphony of urgency and ideas'
ROSES IN THE HOSPITAL 1993 8.6 'Guns 'N' Roses do bloody alienation and self-loathing'
LIFE BECOMING A LANDSLIDE 1994 8.6 'Blueprint for MSP Mk II, but much rawer'
FROM DESPAIR TO WHERE 1993 8.4 'Refined, sophisticated and dignified yet still dangerous '
KEVIN CARTER 1996 8.4 'Last Richey-penned single, dark, mysterious and lyrically horrifying'
THE MASSES AGAINST THE CLASSES 2000 8.4 'Total relief after the neutered success years'
LOVE'S SWEET EXILE 1991 8.2 'Unfairly loathed early single, and first I ever heard from them'
LA TRISTESSE DURERA 1993 8.2 'Impassioned and morally-charged, furious, mid-tempo anti-ageism'
A DESIGN FOR LIFE 1996 8.2 'Still ranks high but blunted by over-exposure'
THERE BY THE GRACE OF GOD 2002 8 'Manics do Depeche Mode. It suited them, as below'
THE LOVE OF RICHARD NIXON 2004 8 'Extraordinary. Why do they denounce this?'
STAY BEAUTIFUL 1991 7.8 'Disillusioned, sad, articulate teenage punk with depth and literacy'
YOU LOVE US 1992 7.8 'Still anthemic and powerful, though both versions sound dated now'
SUICIDE IS PAINLESS 1992 7.8 'A cover, but could have been written for 'GT'-era Manics'
TSUNAMI 1999 7.6 'Classic Manics stadium-sized sorrow, epic but not blustery'
OCEAN SPRAY 2001 7.6 'Tender, semi-acoustic tribute to JDB's Mum, but with cathartic solo'
SLASH N BURN 1992 7.2 'Crunchy, topical, colossal 'GT' opener but I prefer sad Manics'
AUSTRALIA 1996 7.2 'Once wistful ode to escapism that now just sounds like Sky Sports HD9'
LITTLE BABY NOTHING 1992 7 'Simon Price was right. It sounds like Meat Loaf'
SHE IS SUFFERING 1994 7 'Serviceable as single but only really used for 'THB' light relief'
EVERYTHING MUST GO 1996 7 'Emotional at the time but blueprint for future excesses'
INDIAN SUMMER 2007 7 'A Design For Life' re-write, passable, with a few good hooks'
SOME KIND OF NOTHINGNESS 2010 7 '#44 smash which redeems itself in the last minute'
YOU STOLE THE SUN FROM MY HEART 1999 6.8 'New Order meets Nirvana for morons'
YOUR LOVE ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH 2007 6.8 'Archetypal latter-day MSP bluster'
IT'S NOT WAR (JUST THE END OF LOVE) 2010 6.8 'As above, but steals from Steps ''Stomp'' '
FOUND THAT SOUL 2001 6.6 'Paper-thin return to punk roots. Five minutes to write?'
POSTCARDS FROM A YOUNG MAN 2011 6.6 'Straight in at #54. Mass communication, eh?'
SO WHY SO SAD 2001 6.4 'Lost appeal permanently after approximately 2 plays. Stylophone!'
LET ROBESON SING 2001 6.2 'Commendable themes but lame as single. Reminds of Cuba trip'
AUTUMNSONG 2007 6.2 'Cringeworthy Aerosmith pastiche the band inexplicably adore'
THE EVERLASTING 1998 6 'Genoinely never-ending, lifeless plodder, bores one to death'
THIS IS THE DAY 2011 5.6 'Cover and terrible choice for single, horrible bloated production'

So, not surprising to conclude that the howlers occur when they go big, bombastic and court a mainstream audience that doesn't exist currently. The ego-puncturing nature of the broken Top 40 hits run can only invigorate them if they continue, and the prospect of '70 Songs Of Fear And Hatred' may even pick up where 'Journal For Plague Lovers' left off. Whilst the majority of the songs that make up the bottom reaches aren't necessarily awful songs by any stretch of the imagination, I'm finding the appeal of these tracks to be more and more short-lived. The reason 'Everything Must Go' was so successful was, not only because of the musical climate, but because of the context, and whilst that album was a sophisticated and dignified affair, subsequent attempts to emulate its sound have seemed contrived and bland. The all-too-fleeting introspective electronics of 'Lifeblood' have aged well, and it would be pleasing to see the band head down another previously uncharted (for them) avenue again, and whilst admittedly it was built upon Richey's leftover lyrics, 'Journal For Plague Lovers' was a stunning turnaround in quality, which managed to balance the troubled post-punk nihilism of the Richey years, with the majestic accessible pop they have often pulled off since then.

So, I'm hoping this collection draws a line under the commercial-success chasing years, with the band having bled bombast to death, especially if their hits of around 20 years ago are sounding more wisely developed than that of the last five years. They still have in it in them to make great music, and be culturally and socially relevant, but having attempted to emulate the sound of 1996 on at least two occasions now, maybe its time to focus on introspection rather than bombast, small instead of big, forward-looking rather than perpetually nostalgic, prioritise edge over polish and cult appeal versus mass communication. In other words, catering for their original fanbase (if not literally, certainly that type of fan), despite what those '26 million album' claims would have you believe. The problem with the masses is that they're not really into culture, alienation, boredom or despair.

*minus the Heavenly recording of 'You Love Us', a great snapshot of the shambolic pre-Sony days, but not too relevant here, plus that's the kind of song that always needed the ridiculously shiny glam-metal production it got in the end.