Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Worst 200 Songs, Part X (a): #20-11

And now for the top 20... 10-1 will follow on Sunday, alongside a podcast.

20. Staind - 'It's Been a While'
(2001, #15, DL)

DL: This week's records are so bad that it's taken me a full two hours to even pluck up the courage to press play. Knowing what awaits me, the fact that I only have ten to write about at this point is more than merciful. Do one, you droning metal cunt.

AN: There’s something Tracy Chapman-esque about this. In a shit way. I don’t understand the spelling of Staind either. In fact most band names are really inappropriate aren’t they? Except for ones like Echo and the Bunnymen. They’re weird, but in a good way.

JG: As if to confirm the thick-skulled and utterly conservative underbelly lurking in the background of the adolescent squeal of nu-metal and all that surrounds it, it turns out that Aaron Lewis is a registered Republican. You can see this coming in the lyrics to this heinous piece of shit, in which Lewis mildly self-flagellates without once expressing any actual remorse to anyone who might have been hurt along the way. I’m sure Ayn Rand would approve.

TM: As part of a fine weekend spent chiefly at the local AV Festival, I witnessed The Caretaker sing in baritone an impassioned version of ‘The Lady in Red’, which bookended his show. It is impossible to imagine anyone essaying this plodding ‘nu-rock’ ballad with anything approaching vitality. A bald man washes his face and looks vaguely earnest, while I wish this was Michael Stipe or Matt Johnson. Staid!

19. Florence and the Machine - 'You've Got The Love'
(2009, #5, AN)

DL: I don't trust people whose signature records are cover versions. At Glastonbury 2010, the kooky one apparently gate-crashed the sets of a number of different artists to collaborate on further renditions of it outside of her own fucking set. Of course, the lack of musical intro means that you don't even get anything in the way of a warning before it infects your headspace. It's Candi Staton's, give it back.

AN: A strong candidate for my all-time least favourite tune. And here’s why. Firstly, FATM has done much harm to humanity. As a paragon of the present nadir of British popular culture – consumer decadence, poshness, commodified theatricality, apoliticism masquerading as marginal “kookiness” – she is all of the things that are shit about life right now. Not just shit in the common or garden variety sense of the term, but shit in the sense of actual worthless evil blocking the path of anything genuinely good ever again seeing the light of day.

Secondly, cover versions are generally not very worthwhile. That said, every once in a while a reworking or remix comes along that refracts the original in a way that is ingenious and creative, justifying the whole notion of recycling in pop. In 1997, The Now Voyagers remix of 'You Got the Love' by The Source featuring Candi Staton provided an ingenious and creative reworking of a tune that had already been reworked as a house track in 1991. It was marvellous and I loved it. In the ensuing years, however, this version became such a staple of adverts and football highlights shows that I grew tired of hearing it. Then, as part of a wearisome noughties craze for half-arsed cover versions spearheaded by another unequivocally evil person, Jo Whiley, people began reworking it with alarming frequency. Among the terrible karaoke iterations were execrable versions by The Longcut and Joss Stone.

It was at this juncture that the wonderfully radical and avant-garde BRIT Critics Choice Award winner Florence and the Machine decided to take the daring creative risk of releasing her version of 'You Got the Love'. Despite the fact that it was unimaginatively arranged and featured hackneyed, spectacularly off-key vocals, this version somehow became a kind of anthem for a country entering one of the darkest periods of its history, under a radical Tory administration that was only allowed to get away with its unequivocally evil programme of right-wing wealth redistribution to the rich because the mainstream British Left had long ago morphed into a tendency of do-nothing “liberals” whose definition of a counter-culture began and ended with the sort of reactionary, privileged, lifestyle aesthetic promulgated by Florence and the Machine.

Somewhere in the Outer Hebrides in late 2013, a teenage girl heard 'You Got the Love' for the first time on Spotify and reacted with such instinctive hatred to this travesty of human potentiality that she decided to do something about it. And so she began to write music on her laptop that was daring and revolutionary and new, music that was filled with anger at the ways things were and hope about a more intelligent and socially meaningful future. Her music was the polar opposite of everything she had heard in Florence and the Machine. And it took the changing world by storm.

JG: Candi Staton’s original version of ‘You Got the Love’ is a heartfelt gospel track about wrestling with issues of faith, self-belief and sacrifice. Florence Welch’s version is, by contrast, an absolute atrocity committed that sounds like an internship – jumping through the hoops required to showcase one’s abilities through free labour; all backed up with inherited wealth that excludes those from poorer backgrounds.

TM: Bland, bellowing flimflam; lacking any character or subtlety. The Source’s 1990 version did not need to be remade: it is Unité d'habitation besides this Barratt Home, which saps all life-force. The popularity of her work is mystifying – as is the supposed likeness to PJ Harvey, Bjork and such distinct female artists. It seems consumers will lap up any old gubbins if it contains the approved, showy display of vocal gymnastics.

You're not Kate Bush.

18. Katie Melua - 'Nine Million Bicycles'

(2005, #5, DL)

DL: Three minutes that epitomise perfectly why I will never, ever make the switch to Radio 2. Such a Poundland idea of Starbucks-friendly, continentally-tinged jazz-blues. There should have been some Cullum in here too. I'm taking this as a vote for Cullum's arse version of ‘Frontin’’ too. Embarrassing. Are those lyrics supposed to be meaningful? Hard to believe the man responsibie for 'Bright Eyes' was behind this. ‘Remember you're a Womble’ had more emotional nous.

AN: “No ideas beside the facts”, said William Carlos Williams, once upon a time. But I doubt very much that this obscenely vaporous work of aural pornography was what he had in mind. “There are nine million bicycles in Beijing / That’s just a fact”. No it’s not, it’s a terrible lyric slapped on top of a non-existent backing track.

JG: I think Mike Batt (who wrote this lightweight nonsense and who appeared earlier in this list) needs to understand the fast pace of economic development and therefore car ownership (and consequently declining rates of bicycle use) in Beijing. Therefore, Katie Melua was lying when she exclaimed that “I will always love you till I die.” Because she means that she will love you right up until the new Volvo showroom opens in Financial Street.

TM: From synthetic harp to cod-Gaelic flute: it’s Mike Batt Strikes Back! Misconceived attempt by the self-styled ‘pop maverick’ to write a ‘40s standard, with a half-arsed lyric that incredibly enough fails to scale the Cole Porter heights: "There are six billion people in the world / More or less / And it makes me feel quite small / But you’re the one I love the most of all." To exacerbate the crime, she also sang this list's #61 live with its author.

17. Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse - 'Valerie'
(2007, #2, AN)

DL: Not as bad as the plodding original but, Christ. Retro bollocks. A cover of an already-tired song in a tired style of four decades prior, voiced by a figure who unnecessarily and needlessly met her end in a typically tired and futile style. Retromania gone mad. And again, this reworking seems to have become her signature song too! Is it bad that I physically can no longer listen to these in their entirety? I had to turn that off to protect my own sanity.

AN: See above entry on FATM. The same goes. Amy Winehouse was quite simply a very mediocre cabaret singer.

JG: I don’t understand the reasoning here at all, taking a boring song that was barely a year old anyway and then reconfiguring it to sound like ersatz, horrid Motown-lite that get splayed in expensive bars. Except, of course, to claim ownership over it. Not that they were much cop themselves, but who even remembers The Zutons now?

TM: Doherty and Winehouse: their imprudent rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle oblivion was never worth the expenditure of time and column inches. Late ‘00s neo-soul was as backward and obstructive as its late ‘80s forefather. In the words of Spearmint, Say Something Else – or, just play the old Motown and Northern Soul greats and savour their immortal vivacity. Not the last we’ll see of the man Ronson, rather ominously.

16. Plain White T's - 'Hey There Delilah'
(2007, #2, DL)

DL: There's a wealth of selections from the hit parade of 2007 here and rightly so. This emo-schmaltz is just as stomach-churning as anything Marty Wilde and Jess Conrad offered up to proceedings earlier on in the countdown. I might have to have a sick break. A lighters-in-the-air load of spaff not a million miles away from Green Day's 'Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)' and I fucking hated that with passions that I'd never unearthed previously too.

AN: Fascist-slick pop.

JG: I absolutely fucking hate this with its cloying sentimentality and disgusting earnestness. This isn’t really about a distance relationship. No, it’s about a fool claiming some sort of romantic ethic of self-sacrifice when all he’s doing is feeding his own narcissism and infuriating shallowness. Horrible band name too.

TM: Lacklustre, whiny stab at a sincere ballad which is more of a sales pitch than an explication of desire (“someday I’ll pay the bills with my guitar”). His persistently imbecilic rhymes would shame a primary school dabbler; he drizzles on and on and on, making Sarstedt seem like Neil Tennant. “My word is good”: no, it is paltry debris in the grand scheme. “Give this song another listen”? I’d rather have News International on my case.

"I'll be making history, as I do" - hubris, anyone?

15. Jessie J. - 'Price Tag'
(2011, #1, DL)

DL: This is becoming a harrowing experience. Can we all stop saying 'bling' now, in any context, ever? I've got tea cosies that have more genuine street cred than Jessie J. If only I knew something more pleasant was going to follow it.

AN: Stage school trash.

JG: There have been concerns raised on one forum that my continual harping on about the BRIT School is an unfair attack on the backgrounds of its alumni. Bollocks is it. BRIT School alumni are target marketed and PR trained to death to the point that any enigma, malevolence or genuine personality is sucked out of their careers and their focus group determined songs and ‘kooky’ personas. Maybe I’m just getting too old for this shit.

TM: Of course, it’s not about the price tag: it’s about the outstandingly innovative, socially engaged and unifying artistry of Jessie J! Nothing at all to do with the money, hype and vanity of BRIT-schooled Britain! This is like David Icke having a go at someone for being a conspiracy theorist. “Why is everyone so serious?” Because this alleged frivolity is a trite, insincere cover for more avarice and musical nullity?

14. James Blunt - 'You're Beautiful'
(2005, #1, TM)

DL: I liked it when mainstream singer-songwriters were exactly that before Oasis came along, ruined everything and enabled any given number of mop-headed buffoons to soothe us of all with their tepid acoustic sounds in the mistaken belief that what they were doing was in any way more credible than Paul Young, Chris De Burgh or Mick Hucknall. Although as a disclaimer he's always seemed an agreeable chap on the tellybox etc.

AN: James Blunt’s poshness and ex-army backstory was a sort of anomaly back in 2005 wasn’t it? Oh how we mocked him. Now that the charts are full of such twats, and the populace is drifting towards a worrying militaristic jingoism, the joke is very much on us. Fuck!

JG: Listen to those lyrics carefully: “I saw your face in a crowded place, and I don’t know what to do.” Isn’t there something quite dark and psychotic about that? Unfortunately, whatever strange anti-heroics might result from that obsessional idea are more than neutralised by Blunt’s appalling, sub-Gibb vocals and the overwhelming impression that he’s... well, a bit thick, to be honest.

TM: Ah, to some this man’s vocals may seem wondrous! To me they are a yelping chore. For the All-Music Guide his second album was ‘a step in the right direction for Blunt, a move toward love songs free of pretension’ – yes! His songs possessed Peter Hammill-esque levels of complexity before! In the week that Margaret Thatcher expressed regret that she ever went in politics maybe Blunt will express similar contrition for his ‘acoustic-tinged’ mixture of rock, pop and folk?

13. Kid Rock - 'All Summer Long'
(2008, #1!, DL)

DL: Yep. Just what I need right now. A knuckle-headed 'Sweet Home Alabama' re-appropriation. The more appalling and remorseless these monuments of despair become, the more stumped I feel. Is this comparable to an American 'The Day We Caught the Train' in its stupendously obvious sense of summer nostalgia?

AN: Another weird example of the karaoke craze. Like the product of an octogenarian record producer with Alzheimers who is recuperating by trying to remake a song he once heard in his youth, but which he keeps getting badly wrong.

JG: A kind of ‘Summer of ‘69’ for the iPhone generation that lazily loops its good-time-livin’ theme around Lynyrd Skynyrd. I suppose you can’t really argue with the fact that Kid Rock is ultimately self-made, given that he made six albums before anyone had even heard of him. Perhaps this shows us that the American Dream is one that is most effectively pursued by selling out to vapid consumerism.

TM: Dexys Midnight Runners used Warren Zevon’s ‘Werewolves in London’ riff rather brilliantly on their outstanding parting shot Don’t Stand Me Down. This bearded goon spoils it all by fusing it with ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, recording a smug video where he is surrounded by Baywatch ‘lovelies’ and offering his sundry reflections on those halcyon pre-internet days. ‘SHA’ expressed apathy about Watergate. This is an even more airheaded incitement to ennui.


12. P!nk - 'So What'

(2008, #1, DL)

DL: No, you're no more of a rock star than Bob Carolgees. Is she trying to be obnoxious? 'P!nk' has actually somehow regressed in terms of maturity over the years. If anyone genuinely thinks there's an ounce of real rebellion in this, then they deserve to listen to it on a never-ending loop. With melodies as aggravating as the lyrics wrapped around them, 'So What' is a stone cold slab of cold excrement.

AN: God, the weight of noughties awfulness is starting to turn my soul to ice again. Yes, I remember Pink. She was dreadful.

JG: This trend for self-referential pop music absolutely stinks. Tragically, when Pink asserts some kind of fuck-you independence, what she really means is that she’s still a rock star and therefore still making various anonymous Cowell-like figures very rich, thank you very much.

TM: Its lack of politesse isn’t the problem. It’s just an irritating, branded sort of ‘feisty’ – hardly the Waitresses, Princess Superstar or The Slits. “I am a rock star / I’ve got my rock moves” – what’s the betting that they are like Jagger? Still, while this is tommy-rot I don't hate it quite as much as ‘Every Beat of My Heart’, ‘Stand Up and Be Counted’, ‘No Charge’, ‘Darling Buds of May’ or indeed ‘Let’s Work’!

11. Stereophonics - 'Have a Nice Day'
(2001, #5, TM)

DL: Well, I suppose if we can't have ‘American Idiot’ then a similar horror from a band who should have never been allowed to incorporate even the slightest element of politics into their music will suffice. 'Mr Writer', 'Pick a Part That's New', 'Just Lookin'... the choices were multiple. Even if you ignore the shoehorning of ill-informed cultural commentary into proceedings, the idea of people getting off on a banal, piss-poor nothing song about having a nice day is even fucking worse.

AN: Not very good. In all the wrong places.

JG: San Francisco. Home of Blue Cheer’s proto-metal howl, the biting sarcasm of the Dead Kennedys and playful avant garde types Matmos. The centre of US gay culture, with all of its erotic possibilities. But you wouldn’t think so from this turgid horse-spunk, in which Kelly Jones mopes around Pier 39 like a mildly hung-over Coldplay fan, before moaning about a greeting that is the equivalent of “alright, mate?” The wanker.

TM: Dear Lord, this is a dismal, excessively played crock of codswallop. They were of the generation of bands who gradually moved into complacent, cowed, crowd-pleasing vagueness and yachting affluence - as featured in the sickening video. The best that can be said is that the lyric contains traces of self-diagnosis: '"We’re going wrong / We’ve become all the same"' "It’s all money gum /No artists anymore". Its title’s deadening customer-service imperative sums up the prevailing sense of cash-till tedium.

And now for Baywatch, guest starring a cheeky, rasping voiced Welsh chappie

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