Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Singles Bar: 12/03/12

News reaches us here that, in the UK, Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye has become the first track to shift 500,000 copies in the year of 2012. If that doesn’t hasten the need for new, fresh, exciting music to descend on the singles charts, I don’t know what does. Luckily, there are a smorgasbord of tracks ready for you below, so pull up a chair and tuck in.

M.I.A. – Bad Girls

It’s difficult for M.I.A. She’s on the verge of mainstream success but to achieve it, she risks losing what made her distinctive in the first place. In fact, I’m about to stake claim to the headline, “How do you solve a problem like M.I.A.?” so you need to talk to me first if you want to write that article. You get the feeling there will be mis-steps along the way but on Bad Girls, M.I.A. judges things perfectly. She manages to combine catchy rhymes with a commercial sensibility, hip-hop beats and the kind of Middle Eastern hook that 99% of pop stars wouldn’t go near. It’s done with aplomb, and while it lacks the punch of some of her earlier work, it could well be the catalyst to full crossover commercial success. 8/10

Alexandra  Burke – Elephant feat. Erick Morillo

As far as I can tell, Alexandra Burke won X Factor due to her ballad-friendly voice but, cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah aside, she’s concentrated primarily on club-friendly R&B instead since that victory. That powerful voice which caused so many to pick up the phone back in 2008 has been stripped of all semblance of character and auto-tuned to death on Elephant, with the consequence that this track could be by pretty much anyone. It’s yet more chart-friendly faceless Ibiza-influenced pop and, even for that most unlovable of genres, this is a poor and forgettable effort. Also, while this elephant in question may be the “elephant in the room” of a failing relationship, we’ve certainly learned that ‘elephant’ is not a word that goes particularly well with huge dance anthems. 1/10

Katzenjammer – I Will Dance (When I Walk Away)

As well as being the surname of Tamsin Greig’s brilliant Fran in Black Books, ‘katzenjammer’ is also German for ‘hangover’. See, you like this band already, don’t you? IWD(WIWA) is a chirpy piece of indiepop full of glockenspiel and melodica, that also has a slightly traditional Irish folk dance feel to it. There are some great singalong vocals though, and a sense that you’ve stumbled across an exquisitely hewn pop gem that’s going to get stuck in your head for a good few days. It’s also absolutely perfect for radio, which makes you wonder why it’s not completely unavoidable and why Katzenjammer aren’t the must-see band of the festival season. Listen to IWD(WIWA) and you’ll smile, you’ll dance, you’ll play it again as soon as it’s finished, and you’ll really feel that summer is just around the corner. 9/10

Michael Kiwanuka – I’m Getting Ready

The retro-soul sound of singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka has already won him the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll, as well as plenty of plaudits elsewhere. He almost seems like a man from another era, and in an age of bountiful musical excitement, it seems a little sad that a hotly-tipped artist has to look backwards in time so obviously for inspiration. That said, Kiwanuka’s velvety croon is simply gorgeous, and the backing vocals in I’m Getting Ready complement his tones perfectly. It’s an immersive track, with the feel and structure of an old gospel song. It’s so easy and free, that’s it’s a lovely experience just to let the soothing sounds wash over you. Of course, it would be nice if the sound of today didn’t sound so indebted to the past but when a song’s this good, it’s hard to care too much. 8/10

Jay-Z & Kanye West – Niggas In Paris

It seems odd that a collaboration between arguably the two biggest stars in rap hasn’t set the world alight. Sure, there’s been plenty of attention on Watch The Throne, but nothing like you’d expect from the combined pulling power of Jay and Kanye. On Niggas In Paris, the two seem so wrapped up in their own rhymes and style, they’ve neglected to give too much attention to what’s going on outside of the vocals. This is ill-advised because, while no-one can deny they’re mega-stars, Jay-Z and Kanye West aren’t huge purely for their technical ability. In fact, on this tired effort, Kanye’s annoying drawling is turned up to eleven and there’s not much to latch onto. Really, it’s just the sound of a pair of gazillionaires boasting about how great they are – why wouldn’t you like it? 5/10

Rufus Wainwright – Out Of The Game

The lesser-talented Wainwright sibling (opinion: reviewer’s own) returns with a typically understated effort… or not. Of course, Wainwright’s voice is like incredibly rich food; wonderful to begin with but utterly insufferable if you’ve had too much. ‘Too much’ in this case relates to around 90 seconds or so, and the female backing vocals are just as overpowering. In fairness, Rufus has turned down the melodrama on this Out Of The Game – there’s not a symphony orchestra in sight – and it’s a fairly straightforward, guitar-led track. Yes, there’s the odd flourish and an attempt at a big climax (this is Rufus Wainwright after all) but this could be an appropriate entry point for any Rufus non-believers. Overall, it’s not too much to get excited about, whether you’re a fan or not. 4/10

Tango In The Attic – Paw Prints

The new single by Scots Tango In The Attic starts with a statement of intent: huge drums and intense riffing (which sounds awesome on headphones, by the way) that just seem to build and build. By the time the first section is over, we’ve got swirly, shoegazey guitars and unusual time signatures for company too. It’s a full two minutes before the bass comes in though, and Paw Prints is really missing it until its arrival. Blasts of visceral noise and an intricate structure elevate this above the average and push it in the direction of math-rock, but it can come across as an attempt to mask a lack of quality in the songwriting itself. That said, Paw Prints is certainly worth a listen and will blow the cobwebs away any day of the week. 6/10

Paul Weller – That Dangerous Age

Despite having spent the last decade or more releasing poor facsimiles of former glories, Paul Weller continues to be feted by an ever-fawning music press. Perhaps he’s especially nice to journalists, I don’t know. Anyway, Weller usually seems to be oblivious to the passage of time (and not just in his attitudes to haircuts) but on That Dangerous Age, he addresses his advancing years directly. Much of his latter-day work has been stodgy and bereft of inspiration, but here, there are handclaps, cowbells and a fuzzy bassline you could have a stab at busting a groove to. A welcome change in musical outlook from the man we’re contractually obliged to refer to as The Modfather, yet still anything but a classic. That said, not bad for a man on the verge of releasing his eleventh solo studio record. 6/10

Saint Etienne – Tonight

It’s unlikely I’ll ever be a member of royalty but if the unthinkable does happen, one of my first acts will be to award the members of Saint Etienne a collective knighthood. For over twenty years they’ve provided the world with dance music with substance, marvellously bonkers cut and paste albums and a general sense of musical joie de vivre. Tonight harks back to the classic three-minute instant pop of their 90s singles and is impossible to not get caught up in. Gloriously, it’s actually about going to a gig, getting caught up in the anticipation and then the “surrender to the sound” that comes with the best music. A little meta, perhaps, but a hook-filled wonder that never outstays its welcome and leaves you wanting more. Exceptional. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Future Of The Left – Sheena Is A T-Shirt Salesman

We don’t have ‘Song Title of the Week’ here at The Singles Bar but if we did, this would win by some distance. Either way, it’s nice that Sheena is making a living and her days of punk rockerdom didn’t leave her entirely employable. SIATS is a breakneck thrash ride that races along without leaving room for you to breathe. There’s a hint of a band who are far too pleased with themselves though, and really, attention-grabbing titles aside, this is in no way enjoyable to listen to. Living under a (mainly) Conservative government, I can’t help but hope the future of the left is a whole lot brighter than this. 2/10

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