Monday, 16 July 2012

The Singles Bar: 02/07/12

Recent events show that these are hard times for the music industry. Figures released today reveal that for the first half of 2012, album sales were down 13.8% year on year in the UK. Also, just a few days ago, monthly music magazine The Word announced it was soon to print its last issue after nearly a decade on the nation’s newsstands. Uncertainty lies ahead but in the here and now, we have a seemingly booming singles market, and the following are ten choice cuts available to purchase from today.

Citizens! – Caroline

You can’t help but admire a band that like to use superfluous punctuation in their name. Londoners Citizens! are produced by Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, and he’s certainly left his parent band’s fingerprints over Caroline (that wasn’t meant to sound as rude as it does, by the way). There’s a very Franzish, chugging bassline and jerky, post-punk energy but with a more electronic feel than the Scots. There’s a decent hint of glam in there too, and Citizens! are obviously fine scholars of this world we call pop. A solid effort, but nothing more than that really. It’s a relatively catchy, nicely put together indie tune, but not one that’s going to make you fall in love with this band and write their name on your schoolbag, exclamation mark or not. 6/10

South Four – Cougar Town

You’ve probably guessed from the name that South Four are a boyband.”Sussex’s answer to One Direction” (Says who? The Brighton Argus – that’s who) have reportedly signed a £1 million deal – how very exciting for them. Now, we all know the target market for teenage boybands is teenage (or younger) girls, so releasing a song about cougars seems a little bizarre. Musically, it’s like most UK boyband tunes in 2012 but, if anything, even more anaemic and processed than The Wanted et al. However, lyrically, it’s awful and embarrassing in equal measures (“I wonder what she looks like with her daughter’s t-shirt on.”). So, young girls, fall in love with these guys, join their fan club, follow them on Twitter and rest safe in the knowledge that what they really want to do is have sex with your Mum. Interesting marketing angle… 0/10

The Darkness – Everybody Have A Good Time

Listen up, South Four (and loads of others, actually), if you want to know how to do tongue-in-cheek fun, you could do far worse than turn your attention to The Darkness (first album vintage, obvs). It might be the comeback no-one asked for, but they’ve got a support slot for some Lady Gaga gigs, so they must be doing something right. As you’d expect, it sounds largely like a Darkness song, i.e. Thin Lizzy in spandex, but they’ve lost some of the lust for life that made Permission To Land such a huge success. It’s got the big riffing, the solos and it’s even got plenty of cowbell, but The Darkness have misplaced their unselfconsciousness and, as such, they can’t recapture that 2003 (or should that be 1976?) magic. 4/10

Dirty Projectors – Gun Has No Trigger

Dirty Projectors tend to split opinion quite fiercely, but I tend to generally sit on the ‘I find them pleasantly listenable’ side of the fence. For a Dirty Projectors track, Gun Has No Trigger starts off surprisingly conventionally; hip-hop inspired drums, haunting background vocals, a striking vocal line and not an awful lot else. It’s all rather beautiful, if not exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from the Brooklyn sextet. Does this signify a shift into more mainstream territories? Let’s hope not, because as good as Gun Has No Trigger is (and make no mistake, it is very good), Dirty Projectors are at their best when combining pop with the avant-garde in increasingly more imaginative and unlikely ways. 8/10

Will Young – I Just Want A Lover

On his new single, Mr. Young is exclaiming the polar opposite of Sharleen Spiteri in the 80s, which as a corollary, must mean that he doesn’t need a friend. I Just Want A Lover follows the template of Will Young’s more recent forays into the charts, in that it’s more electronic yet AOR-focused than his work from the last decade. He seems to be pitching more towards the Scissor Sisters/Pet Shop Boys market, and on the evidence of this, he’s rather good at it. I Just Want A Lover shimmers throughout its three and a half minutes, and although it never entirely breaks free of its shackles, the hints of disco are more than enough to sustain your interest. The vocals are perhaps a little too vulnerable and fey for the production, but for someone who’s been at the forefront of pop for over a decade now, it’s the kind of song that should be applauded. 7/10

Plan B – Lost My Way

A few months back, I wrote that Plan B’s iLL Manors could well be one of the most important singles in chart history. I stand by that, but you couldn’t help but wonder where Ben Drew would go next. Would he keep up his hard-hitting aural attacks or would he retreat to the soul sound that had served him so well commercially? The answer is… both, in a way. There’s a definite soul influence in the sample that makes up the chorus, but he’s sticking to rapping for the time being, and it’s another morality tale full of deprived children with nowhere to turn. Lost My Way lacks the potency and immediacy of iLL Manors and, really, it just treads the same lyrical ground but with less flair and verve. Plan B has manoeuvred himself into a position where he could potentially become the voice of an under-represented generation – now he just needs to decide if that’s the role he wants and, if so, how to do it properly. 6/10

Gossip – Move In The Right Direction

What do you do when somebody’s standing in the way of control? Well, a move in the right direction if probably a good start. Ridiculous not-even-really-a-pun puns aside, this is track is a slick dance number, presumably designed to further complete Beth Ditto’s transformation into disco glamazon. Like the Will Young single above, there’s more than a touch of Scissor Sisters about it and in time-honoured disco tradition, there’s a strong sense of melancholy cutting through the seemingly joyous music. With their thrashing introduction into the wider world, there was a distinct danger of Gossip being one-trick ponies but, against all the odds, they’ve carved out a niche for themselves and Move In The Right Direction is a thoroughly brilliant record. 8/10

DJ Zinc & P Money – Reload

If you’ve not heard any of Zinc’s oeuvre, you may expect him to be metal (ok, sorry, the terrible puns stop here) but it’s actually as a dubstep DJ that he’s more in his element (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, that’s definitely the last one). With frenetic wobbles and beats from Zinc and fevered spitting from P Money, there’s something pretty exciting about Reload. It’s almost a throwback to the days when Kano and Wiley were starting to make their names on the grime scene and their collision of genres and uncompromising styles threatened to take the music world by storm. Reload isn’t quite up to that level of quality, but it’s certainly got plenty to recommend it. It seems the mixture of the two protagonists hasn’t alloyed (ok, I lied) Reload. 7/10

Martin Carr – Sailor

On the same day that the internet went into overdrive as Blur premiered two new tracks on Twitter, one of their Britpop contemporaries, erstwhile Boo Radleys lead guitarist Martin Carr, quietly releases his latest single. Over two decades in the biz obviously haven’t blunted Carr’s ear for an exquisite hook, and Sailor has them in spades. There’s a charming, almost ramshackle, magpie-like feel to the instrumentation – end-of-the-pier organ, scuzzy guitar and shimmering, psychedelic chords – that provides an unexpected delight. While many of the class of ’95 have either remained stuck in the past or resigned themselves to bucolic, sedate indie-rock, Carr deserves a hearty pat on the back for keeping the fires of invention still burning. Shades of peak-era Super Furry Animals live throughout Sailor – it’s simply wonderful, spellbinding stuff. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Pet Shop Boys – Winner

Winner is intended as a track for the Olympics which means it’s already got an advantage; namely that it can’t possibly be worse than that God-awful Muse concoction that’s the official song. PSB inspire fevered devotion and love the world over and, by rights, they should be as up my street as it’s possible to be but, for whatever reason, with the odd exception, they leave me completely cold. They’re just too tasteful and mannered, and to me, their songs usually sound like they’ve been composed via an algorithm. Winner is another one of those; there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but the celebratory platitudes and inoffensive electronic blips really don’t move me in the slightest. As nice as it is to have an Olympic-themed track which encourages some humility and acknowledges the transcendental nature of success, this is by no means a classic. Just to reiterate though, still about a thousand times better than the Muse song. 4/10

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