Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Singles Bar - 23/01/12

One of the joys of getting to write The Singles Bar on a weekly basis is the sheer variety of music you get to hear – old and new, mainstream and obscure. In just a dozen tracks below, we cover the return of a singer well into his 70s, the latest single from music’s great new hope, African-tinged R&B, Caribbean pop, hip-hop, soul, country and more. Of course, if you listen to any twelve songs released on a given day, the chances are one of them will be by David Guetta, and so it proves here. So, if you’re sitting comfortably, I shall begin.

Nerina Pallot – All Bets Are Off

Our first song wastes no time in getting started; there’s no time for anything fussy like “intros” with All Bets Are Off. Pallot’s voice is like a slightly more gutsy Norah Jones and the music’s even more tasteful. A perfectly nice mid-tempo, slightly rocky track with a sweet melody and eager strings at every turn but that’s all it is – nice. It’d be almost impossible to dislike this song but by the same token, I can’t really see how you could passionately love it either. I do wonder why people dedicate their lives to making music like this, but then again, there’s plenty about this world I don’t understand. It’s completely fine, but doesn’t tickle my fancy in the slightest I’m afraid. 5/10

Charlotte Gainsbourg – Anna

Singer, actress, real-life French person – is there anything Charlotte Gainsbourg can’t do? Her last album, IRM, was a disappointment and contained little of the elegant beauty that made its predecessor, 5:55, really stand out. However, on the evidence of Anna, Gainsbourg has decided to pursue the direction introduced on IRM – a direction that’s not particularly inventive or exciting, and one that puts her back amongst the crowd. Of course, there’s still that croaky voice with its prim vowels and deliciously enunciated consonants, but Anna has no dynamic, no jeopardy, no direction, and it’s disheartening to hear. 4/10

Arctic Monkeys – Black Treacle

Sadly, despite only just being old enough to have left their paper-rounds behind, it seems Arctic Monkeys are forever destined to spend their career failing to replicate the magic and electricity that resulted in their record-breaking debut LP. Black Treacle sounds like the kind of track Arctic Monkeys wouldn’t have even put on an album five years ago, let along released as a single. There’s a tired, sludgy pace to the song, and although Alex Turner’s lyrics are still reasonably sharp, even he seems bored by the whole affair. Maybe that’s the point and with a name like Black Treacle, it’s some kind of quasi-onomatopoeic satire designed to make music critics look stupid. Either way, like Charlotte Gainsbourg above, it’s disappointing when an artist you love is making music of such inferior quality to their zenith. 5/10

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Welcome to the review of the new Lana Del Rey single, Born To Die. I’d like to make one thing clear: I shall be reviewing the content of the song, and that alone. I shall not be reviewing her background and childhood, nor shall I be reviewing her appearance and the poutiness of her lips. I’m also not going to review her previous work under her real name and I’m not going to review her “authenticity” or “realness” because I’m fed up of it and I don’t wish to align myself with the myriad, pretentious, white, misogynistic, self-appointed arbiters of taste that appear to have engulfed the internet in the last six months.

Anyway, the track then. The tone of Del Rey’s voice is still something I’m finding difficult to warm to, and there’s always a suspicion with her work that the abundance of strings is masking something, such as the lack of a tune, perhaps. However, the more Born To Die progresses, the more Del Rey’s vulnerabilities come to the surface, the less assured she seems, and the more emotionally affecting the track becomes. The huge drum crashes in the chorus provide a stark contrast to the restraint of the vocals and while it’s a little too similar to Video Games, taken in isolation it’s probably a better track. See, it is possible to review her music properly. 7/10

Leonard Cohen – The Darkness

Like the later work of Johnny Cash, there’s an ominous mood and, yes, a darkness to this track right from the get-go. The guitar figure is simple – quick, finger-picked arpeggios finished with a two note riff, repeated over a twelve bar blues pattern – yet it’s incredibly effective. Also, Cohen’s voice is absolutely extraordinary, a low rumble that sounds effortless yet like it’s lived several lives too. The tone only really changes from throaty growl to hushed whisper, but holds the listener entirely rapt. It’s an old cliché, but Cohen could sing the phone book and it would sound great. The saxophone and the female backing vocals are a little on the schmaltzy side perhaps, but those are the only criticisms of what is a fantastic comeback single. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Amadou & Mariam feat. Santigold – Dougou Badia

There are some collaborations that fill you with excitement before you’ve heard a note of the music and this is one such example. The Malian husband and wife duo have teamed up with boundary-ignoring singer/producer Santigold for Dougou Badia. It’s the collision of African and Western influences you’d expect, and the squealing, atmospheric guitar lines are supplied by Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. There’s a lovely feel to this track which gives it the sense that you could quite happily listen to an hour of stuff that sounded a bit like this. Despite its wonderful elements, there’s something a little lacking in execution and the spark Dougou Badia requires never quite arrives. A minor quibble perhaps, but it’s one that prevents a good song becoming a great one. 7/10

Professor Green – Never Be A Right Time

Inexplicably popular rap wally Professor Green seems to be keen on revealing his sensitive side. However, in this poorly-written wallow-fest, he seems to be so morose he’s forgotten to write the lyrics until he got to the studio, giving the feeling he’s making it up on the spot. That’s the only explanation for the constant repetition, the lines that don’t quite fit properly and have syllable stresses in awkward places, and the sheer awfulness of some of Green’s “rhymes” (“Struggling to find the way to word it / And I’m supposed to be a wordsmith”). The gospel-lite melody in the chorus is simply dull and it sounds like Professor Green’s hardly bothered with this track. It would have been better for everyone if he hadn’t bothered at all. 1/10

Ren Harvieu – Through The Night

I’ve actually pretty much reviewed this track before for No Ripcord, so apologies if I repeat myself slightly if I repeat myself slightly (LOL, ROFL, etc.). BBC Sound of 2012 Longlist nominee Ren Harvieu has a simply gorgeous voice; one that envelops and comforts, and one that – given the right material – could see her pressing the buttons of consumers and industry tastemakers worldwide. Like the rest of her available material, there’s a strong 1960s, Dusty Springfield feel to Through The Night, and even though the build-up to the chorus is clearly signposted, the unexpected chord change at the crucial point still induces goosebumps when played at a certain volume. Expect to hear a lot more about Ren Harvieu as 2012 progresses. 8/10

David Guetta feat. Sia – Titanium

That David Guetta just will not go away, will he? As much as I admire anyone with a strong work ethic, his monopolising of the charts and commercial radio has reached critical mass, and the very mention of his name is enough to make me rock gently in a corner, weeping like a broken shell of a man. However, can the delightful and underrated Sia bring any respite to the Guetta juggernaut? Well, not really. Sia’s idiosyncratic voice brings such much needed humanity and warmth to Guetta’s faceless, club-friendly creations, but as the track builds, Sia’s voice strains and the techno tosspot ends up drowning out the only good thing on the track. There’s an appealing chord progression buried somewhere here, it’d be really interesting to hear an acoustic version of Titanium if one exists where the vocals don’t need to struggle so much. As it is, the unfortunate Guettaisation of music continues apace. 4/10

Bon Iver – Towers

While I’m by no means the biggest fan of Bon Iver or his alt. country, mountain-dwelling beardy ilk, I’ll happily concede his records contain some genuinely heart-melting, beautiful moments. However, Towers isn’t one of them. When the drums and backing vocals finally come in at around the two minute mark, it’s a welcome change of pace, but nothing more. The sound of a full band certainly suits Bon Iver more than the lone woodsman sound, but the double-tracked falsetto is now merely annoying, and there’s little of substance going on in Towers to lift it away from the realm of the forgettable. 5/10

Cover Drive – Twilight

After the horrific Lick Ya Down didn’t sound the death knell for the atrocious Cover Drive, they’ve decided to bestow a new single upon us. Like Lick Ya Down, it follows all the tropes of mega-selling dance-pop in the 2010s while adding a few Caribbean rhythms. If you’re thinking that sounds like an inferior version of a Rihanna record, then you’d be exactly correct, because that’s pretty much what Twilight is. Just when you think it’s reached its nadir, there’s an exceptionally weak rap that’s slathered with layers of autotune. Also, oddly for dance-pop, it seems to be at slightly too slow a tempo to actually dance to, which means it basically fails on all fronts. Well done, everyone involved in this, you should be proud – have you ever thought of turning your skills to running the world’s largest financial institutions? 2/10

Flo Rida feat. Sia – Wild Ones

After years of being largely ignored, it appears Sia has chosen January 2012 to make her bid for global domination, being involved in two singles with pop mega-stars released on the same day. The good news is that Mr. Rida hasn’t decided to murder the Suede classic, but the bad news is that Wild Ones is another Ibiza-influenced club track that completely wastes Sia’s talents. Flo Rida gives the impression of being an incredibly impatient man who can’t wait to “get the party started” so has to repeatedly add huge beats and jump in for a verse when the song’s progressing perfectly well without him. In case you’re wondering about the lyrical content of Wild Ones, I’m struggling to penetrate the multiple gnomic doctrines of Flo Rida but I think it’s about what a thoroughly marvellous chap he is, how he’s exceptionally popular with members of the opposite sex and how he enjoys nothing more than having a jolly time with some of his closest friends. Marvellous. 2/10

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