Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Singles Bar - 19/12/11

It’s last orders at The Singles Bar for 2011, and it’s a Christmas special. So, charge your glasses, get some eggnog or mulled wine, help yourself to a mince pie and prepare for a selection of festive – and not so festive – offerings.

On Sunday, the official Christmas Number 1 single will be announced. Currently, X Factor winners Little Mix hold the top spot with their cover of Damien Rice’s Cannonball, but they’re facing competition from some unlikely corners…

Radiohead – The Daily Mail / Staircase

Fresh from successfully overthrowing capitalism at Occupy LSX (oh, what do you mean capitalism’s still doing quite well?), everybody’s favourite festive elves return with a double single just in time for the holidays – hooray! The Daily Mail is instantly better than anything on recent album, The King Of Limbs; it begins as a Kid A-style plaintive piano ballad before ratcheting up the bile and crunching guitars around the 3-minute mark. Staircase is a lot more like a KoL track, with twitchy, spasmodic beats, though it almost sounds like something you could actually dance to (should you wish). However, it also has the warmth that was missing from so much of that record. After 2011 looked to be a year of mis-steps for Radiohead, it looks like they’re back on form, and not before time. 9/10

Stacey Solomon – Driving Home For Christmas

An important thing to mention here: Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas is actually my favourite Christmas record of all-time. Also, former X Factor contestant and Queen of the Jungle Stacey Solomon is an incredibly likeable personality. She’s a breath of fresh air whenever she’s on TV or radio, and has a fantastic sense of humour. All of which goes to make this reworking all the more disappointing. Solomon’s voice is so devoid of the character she clearly has, that this sounds like one of the dodgy, karaoke rip-offs of songs you can’t find the original of on Spotify. She’s also not helped by the fact this is soundtracking the festive adverts of £1 doner kebab pizza-peddlers, Iceland – who’d want to drive anywhere for that? 3/10

Spector – Grey Shirt & Tie

BBC Sound of 2012 hopefuls, Spector, haven’t actually released a Christmas single, but there are a few East 17 style church bells as a nod to the time of year. Grey Shirt & Tie is reminiscent of a boyband song that’s been dragged through the mud – the production is sludgy and uninspiring, and there’s a grating, cheap-sounding accompaniment in the chorus. However, throw some strings around it, chuck in a key change and it could be another Westlife enormo-ballad (NB: this is not a good thing). Spector aren’t a particularly bad group, but the fact they’ve been earmarked as one to watch in the coming year doesn’t do much to fill me with seasonal cheer. 5/10

Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler – Home For The Holidays

Emma Lee Moss and her beau, Tim Wheeler of Ash, have actually recorded an entire Christmas album. And – shock horror – they’ve done what no-one seems to do any more, and have written a brand new song that celebrates the sheer joy of Christmas (unless I’m wrong and this is a cover, in which case, oops). Home For The Holidays is a gorgeous, rich tune with sweet vocals and sleigh bells that – despite chucking the kitchen sink in – stays just the right side of cheesy. Try listening to this without a massive smile on your face – you will fail. As an addendum, Emmy and Tim also cover Darlene Love’s Marshmallow World on their album – AMAZING. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

The Only Way Is Essex – Last Christmas

In years to come, what will scientists decide was the point in which it all went wrong for humankind? Will it be the global financial meltdown? Will it be the Watergate scandal? Will it be the moment Countdown by Beyoncé failed to break the Top 30? It’ll probably be the moment during this song when Sam from the TOWIE gang remarks, “I can’t wait to get my Christmas vajazzle,” and a man (no idea who; I couldn’t care less) replies, “Go on, Sam, let’s have a look.” Because, of course, what says Christmas more than applying diamantes to your public area and a leering creep attempting to peek in your underwear? You really get the feeling it’s what Jesus would have wanted. For the uninitiated, this is a cover of the Wham! classic interspersed with catchphrases from the titular televisual abomination and probably represents the nadir of all human accomplishment. I grew up about 20 miles from Essex, and this song makes me want to go and live on a raft in the middle of the Pacific ocean and hack off my own ears with a rusty butter knife. 0/10

The Black Keys – Lonely Boy

The latest track from the bluesome twosome features one of the filthiest riffs you’ll hear this side of legality and a chorus that seems to ascend infinitely. From their humble, lo-fi beginnings, The Black Keys have become adept at writing radio-friendly alternative hits. Unfortunately, this sheen means they’ve lost some of the rawness that – opening riff aside – set them apart when they first started attracting attention. There’s no real Christmas feel about Lonely Boy except for what may be a female choir in the background, but that’s clutching at straws. A perfectly passable effort, but nothing to make you run down to the shops, that is, if people actually bought singles at the shops any more. 6/10

Rizzle Kicks – Mama Do The Hump

It’s been a pretty astounding year for Rizzle Kicks. The BRIT-school graduates (yes, I know) have come from nowhere to have a run of hit singles. They’ve got something about them which is likely to make them go far – they’re the harmless, bubblegum face of hip-hop, and they certainly have a way with a catchy melody. However, they are on a run of releasing tracks which are worse than their predecessor, and their popularity means they’re about to reach saturation point. Mama Do The Hump has some quite bizarre Western-style banjos behind it but other than that, it’s a fairly forgettable mid-tempo track that doesn’t really go anywhere or say much. Nothing too offensive but nothing too great either. 5/10

Air – Parade

Rather appropriately given their previous efforts, Air seem to have drifted back into Planet Pop rather quietly. Parade is far from your typical Air track though; there are elements of prog and Kraftwerk here, as well as a haunting ghostly feel provided by the backdrop of strings. In fact, it’s something you’d be more likely to associate with their fellow Frenchmen, Daft Punk. But this is none the worse for it, and it’s heartening to see a group who have been around for over 15 years unafraid to try and break new ground. An odd choice for a single perhaps, and a little disjointed, but a welcome return for Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin all the same. 8/10

Cast – See That Girl

Hang on, is that the Cast? As in, briefly-inexplicably-popular-in-the-mid-to-late-90s Cast? Well, two seconds of guitar jangle tells you that it is indeed that Cast. Writer’s friend, Wikipedia, claims they’ve been back together since 2010, but it’s certainly news to me. With See That Girl, though, it’s as if they’ve never been away, as it has all the hallmarks of a typical Cast song. By which, I mean it sounds like an inferior version of the bands that begat Cast (i.e. The La’s and Shack). See That Girl causes a brief pang of Britpop nostalgia, but Cast were never one of the leading lights of the scene, and their return feels largely inessential. 5/10

Wurzels – Sleigh Ride / White Christmas

Now, this is more like it! If you’ve never heard of The Wurzels, I feel honoured that I’m the one who gets to explain them to you. They’re effectively a band of cider-guzzling musicians who sing in broad West Country accents and are the main exponents of a particularly niche genre known as Scrumpy n’ Western. These covers of the Christmas favourites are exactly what you’d expect from The Wurzels: ridiculously tongue-in-cheek, full of oo-arr’s and banjos, and regional pronunciation as ripe as the finest cider apples. A novelty? Oh, completely, but one that’s good fun and does no harm. The fact that the band had a #1 hit in 1976 – with Combine Harvester – does trouble me somewhat though. 7/10

Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

The thing is, yah, Christmas has become, like, soooo over-commercialised, right? And, it’s like, totally sticking it to the man, by, you know, getting a, like, revolutionary anthem to the top of the charts. And it’s completely in the spirit of Christmas and not at all pointless, right? So, the fact there’s a carefully orchestrated campaign every year to hijack the charts by a load of people with nothing better to do with their time is, like, well funny, yeah? ‘Cause, like, if you go on Facebook, yeah, there’s this page, and it’s, like, well anti-X Factor and that, ‘cause, like, Simon Cowell’s totally ruining music, and you should all like “proper” music, like, I don’t know, Kasabian and Kings of Leon or something. Anyway, as I was telling Johnny when we were on a massive lash, it’s well funny, and- OH FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE GO AND GET A JOB AND DO SOMETHING WORTHWHILE WITH YOUR PITIFUL EXISTENCE. 8/10 for the song; 0/10 for the idea and sentiment

Military Wives with Gareth Malone – Wherever You Are

Now, if you’ll excuse me, after that last attempt, I need to recalibrate my cynicismometer. The Military Wives (no Decemberists connection, sadly) are a choir comprised entirely of women whose partners are serving overseas in armed conflicts. They’ve recorded this track with ridiculously baby-faced choirmaster, housewives’ favourite and primetime TV botherer Gareth Malone and it’s the overwhelming favourite to top the charts this year. So, of course, it’s a saccharine effort that doesn’t sound remarkable in any particular way but hey, it’s Christmas and hey, it’s all for charidee and hey, they’ve all been through hard times and hey, I’d rather it got to number 1 than Little Mix. It’s a heartwarming tale and, despite the previous tracks suggesting maybe it’s about genital decoration or pseudo-rebellious grunge, it’s actually what Christmas is all about. Group hug, everyone! 7/10

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