Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Singles Bar - 21/11/11

The British public are often referred to as, “The Great British Public”. However, this cannot be in relation to their record-buying habits. After declaring the genius of Nicola Roberts (see Singles Bar passim), Lucky Day limped to number 40 in the charts. That was bad enough, but after granting the first ever perfect score to über-star Beyoncé, a woman whose voicemail greeting message could probably break the Top 20, the song in question (Countdown) only reached number 35. People of Britain, I ask: what is wrong with you?

On that cheery note, here are this week’s reviews which wield no influence whatsoever, despite my best efforts.

Mary J. Blige – 25/8

Now, here’s an interesting title to kick things off. Is the track in 25/8 time? Or maybe Mary’s decided to adopt the UK date format and sing a paean to the 25th August? A minute later, the truth reveals itself, and it’s a bit of a damp squib. Apparently, 24/7 isn’t enough for Mary to love her man, so she needs another hour and a day; hence 25/8. It would appear Ms. Blige hasn’t moved on a great deal since her heyday, and this song could easily have come from the mid-90s. It’s got some insubstantial backing and a few strings tossed on top, but it all just goes to showcase Blige’s rather large set of pipes. So, if you like vocal gymnastics, and are more impressed by melisma and hitting notes than actual songs, this will be right up your street. Otherwise, avoid. 3/10

Serenades – Come Home

A lot of bands are taking their cues from the eighties these days, but on Come Home – the lead track from an EP of the same name – Serenades have made a track that actually sounds like it was recorded in 1985. There’s a charming cheapness to their sound, which recalls the popular Scritti Politti singles of the era, without the divisive high-register vocals. The Scandinavian duo have tapped into a rich vein of classic pop songwriting and – get this – have actually attempted to craft a proper Christmas tune. Come Home is a plea for a companion to return for the festive period; it has some chiming bells, and it’s really rather lovely. It’ll make you want to put on a woolly jumper, pour a glass of mulled wine and cuddle up with the one you love. Unless you’re single, that is, whence you’ll be made bitter and resentful, but that’s your problem, not mine. 8/10

Will Young – Come On

If you look up Will Young on Spotify, the first four related artists are Daniel Merriweather, The Lighthouse Family, Simply Red and Susan Boyle, which I feel is a little bit harsh on our Will. Sure, he’s unlikely to be pioneering a new offshoot of chillwave any time soon, but he’s fronted some reasonable singles in his time. Like the Serenades track above, there’s a distinct retro feel to the accompaniment, but here it seems a little more of an afterthought than a stylistic choice. While you don’t go to Will Young records looking to be surprised, it could do with a bit more of the gusto that characterised his better songs. So, while it’s crying out for a dance remix, the radio edit falls a little flat. Still, it’s a darn sight better than any of those related artists. Sort it out, Spotify. 5/10

Britney Spears – Criminal

Poor old Britters. Forever the girl in the school uniform to an unforgiving public, her desire to maintain a pop career has resulted in personal problems left, right and centre. Is she happy? I hope so, but can’t see it myself, and her latest LP, Femme Fatale, is a collection of dead-eyed sexbot tracks that could have been fronted by anyone. Criminal sounds like the bubblegum pop of her earlier work – it’s a little rushed and tinny – but the producers have attempted to inject a touch of modernity with the beat. It’s not up to the quality of recent singles Till The World Ends or Hold It Against Me, but Femme Fatale also features the execrable Big Fat Bass (featuring, so perhaps we should just be grateful she’s not releasing that. By anyone’s standards, this is a disappointment, but coming from the woman who gave us Toxic, it’s… you ready?… it’s coming full circle… it’s obvious… you must have guessed… it’s CRIMINAL! Do you see?! It’s the name of the song! That’s why it’s funny! 2/10

Big Deal – Distant Neighbourhood

Sometimes, you can take a dislike to a band without hearing a note of their music. Looking up Big Deal’s album, Lights Out, I discover it contains a song called Cool Like Kurt, and my heart sinks. However, I put on Distant Neighbourhood, and my mood immediately changes. There’s a real sunshine, slacker charm to this song, reminiscent of a more shoegaze-indebted Lemonheads, that’s difficult to dislike. Sugar-sweet boy/girl vocals propel the song along, plus a generous helping of reverb and distortion. Oddly, there’s no percussion at all in Distant Neighbourhood, which is a brave choice but one that ultimately backfires, because the listener is left with a feeling of incompleteness, like the song never quite delivers on its promise. They certainly know how to craft a tunethough. 7/10

The Duke Spirit – Don’t Wait

Despite them being completely different acts, I’m forever getting The Duke Spirit and Duke Special confused. Not to look at, obviously, but I heard of them both around the same time and their names are too similar for my simple brain to process. It’s clearly my loss, as Don’t Wait instantly draws you in to the intriguing and intricate world of The Duke Spirit. The vocals are full of longing, and a wall of guitars introduces the chorus exactly when the song is crying out for it. It’s a good track, and there’s little to complain about, but it does seem The Duke Spirit aren’t firing on all cylinders, and that they’ve got better tracks up their collective sleeve. Also, the longer the track wears on, the more it reminds me of Feeder, which can’t be good, can it? 7/10

Chase & Status and Sub Focus – Flashing Lights

Chase & Status are the chart-friendly arm of dubstep, and quite possibly victims of their own success. Due to their ubiquity, and that of similar artists, their songs are often indistinguishable from tracks by Example, Nero, Pendulum et al. Flashing Lights repeats their winning formula: guest vocals over a slow track with some heavy beats, flashes of Ibiza dance and house, and a feeling of strength-sapping familiarity. If you’re wondering where the “HUGE” bit comes in, it’s at the two-minute mark. There, now you don’t have to sit through the preceding 120 seconds of superfluous build-up. Actually, the “HUGE” bit isn’t even that huge. Four years ago, dubstep was the thrilling sound of the unknown. Flashing Lights just makes me want to put a Pentangle record on… and I don’t even own any Pentangle records. 2/10

The King Blues – The Future’s Not What It Used To Be

I actually saw The King Blues at a festival earlier this year, and I endured about ten minutes of their clichéd, tired, sixth-form, anti-establishment ranting before giving up and wandering off to get a burger. The Future’s Not What It Used To Be has an enticing mix of jaunty ska and haunting, Eastern horns, but the everything’s-gone-to-shit moaning in the lyrics is just so wearing, you want to give them a clip round the ear and tell them to go and get a proper job. There’s also an ill-advised, rap section in the middle – not good. I’m no political expert, but when people describe themselves as “anarchists”, as The King Blues do, I want to get away from them as quickly as possible before I’m bored to death. 3/10

Enrique Iglesias – I Like How It Feels (feat. Pitbull and The WAV.s)

Pop fact of the day: if you got all the songs from 2011 Pitbull has guested on and laid them end-to-end, they’d stretch round the world’s circumference three and a half times. I Like How It Feels comes from the deluxe edition (try to contain your excitement) of Enrique’s album, Euphoria, and follows such family-friendly, singalong ditties as Tonight (I’m Fuckin’ You). To the amazement and surprise of precisely no-one, this track is a dancefloor-focussed Latin-flavoured bore-fest that presumably requires a decent degree of intoxication before it becomes remotely interesting. Pitbull comes in for his obligatory cameo towards the end, brags a lot, compares himself to global warming, and then leaves. When historians look back at the music of 2011, this kind of thing will be depressingly prevalent. 1/10

Grouplove – Lovely Cup

If someone asks you, “what do you think of Lovely Cup by Grouplove?” you’d be well within your rights to report them for sexual harassment for daring to utter such a filthily suggestive phrase. However, rather than an arrestable offence, Lovely Cup by Grouplove is actually an addictive, jaunty, bounce-along of a track which deserves to be played loud on radios up and down the land. There are elements of new wave, slacker-rock, power pop and classic songwriting shimmering through this track, which really should have been released six months ago when it didn’t get dark sometime around 4.30pm. Sounding like the lovechild of The Rapture and Guillemots, Lovely Cup is the kind of track you could listen to again and again without getting bored. I’m going to try and spread the word about this song, though I’ll be sure to choose my conversational opener extra carefully. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

EMA – Marked

Well, it looks like we’re getting political. I was outraged when this government dropped the EMA; it was a fantastic scheme designed to keep young people in education, and if they think for one minute that… oh, the EMA in question here isn’t the Educational Maintenance Allowance, but Erika Anderson, formerly of West Coast band, Gowns. Marked is a bizarre, experimental song that’s so scratchy – in both music and voice – it makes for quite uncomfortable listening. However, there is some beauty beneath that rough surface, and persevere with Marked and you find a track reminiscent of the salad days of Stina Nordenstam. It’s still a harrowing experience in places, but never anything less than beguiling. 7/10

Kasabian – Re-Wired

Lad-rock peddling, sports-casual wearing, derivate, dumb, Oasis-worshipping, drug-glamorising, tedious, devoid of invention, own-hype believing, image-obsessed, deluded, melodically deficient, abominable, blight on society, beloved by idiots, laughable indie band Kasabian return with Re-Wired, a track that shows all the progress and intelligence of the Pope’s views on contraception. Like everything Kasabian have ever put their name to, it’s uniformly awful and has absolutely no redeeming features. It also sounds like everything else they’ve ever done, which was already a facsimile of what so many other bands had done before them to such an extent they were effectively photocopying a blank sheet of paper anyway. I’m normally quite good at seeing the positives in records and accounting for everyone’s tastes. However, Kasabian are terrible, I don’t like anything about this record or them, and if you like it, I will immediately think less of you. 0/10

Bleeding Knees Club – Teenage Girls

I can’t work out whether this band name/song title combo is slightly alluring or just a little pervy. Perhaps it’s meant to be both. Anyway, it fizzes with the kind of lo-fi, bubblegum energy that bands can only have at the very start of their career. It’s unrefined, trashy, and all the better for it. It’s also just over two minutes, which is the perfect length for such a track. Shades of Los Campesinos!, Those Dancing Days and The Ramones are in abundance and while it doesn’t exactly rewrite the rule book, it’s damn good fun while it lasts. A blast to blow away the cobwebs of your day, extremely welcome if you’ve just been listening to, let’s say, Kasabian, for example. 8/10

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