Sunday, February 24, 2008

Single Reviews 25/02/08

As predicted in last week’s Single Reviews, we weren’t entirely happy with the outcome of the Brit Awards. But we’re not angry, oh no. In fact, we’re entirely indifferent to the success of Kate Nash, the Overrated Apes, and of course Mika, who we have no strong opinion on. Calm blue ocean… calm blue ocean… calm blue ocean…

Proceedings begin this week with Tegan & Sara (rather like a Canadian, quirky, Glastonbury-ready Aly & AJ, those who require a brief synopsis. Or just sod off to Wikipedia for yourselves), with the sketchy-yet-interesting The Con. Amply emotive and hugely inventive, it certainly has its appeal, but clearly has no idea where it’s going, resulting in quite the cacophony. Just not too bad a cacophony.

The day-glo, amyl-scented ghost of Alcazar re-materialises in the form of Bodies Without Organs, with the Eurocheese mantra Sunshine In The Rain. Thankfully, it fails to achieve anything near the absurdly homosexual levels set by previous work, but the over-cutesy, barf-inducing lyrics do nothing to improve its chances at taking a one-way shortcut to the dumper.

Alicia Keys foolishly papers over the victorious melodies of comeback monster No-One with the morose, forgettable and downright depressing Like You’ll Never See Me Again. Sure, she’s a gifted musician and all, but quite whose head this is setting out to turn provides a complete mystery – it’s unlikely to do anything other than send eyelids southwards.

Lastly, the Single of the Week prize is awarded to Vampire Weekend, whose talent is mercifully capable of matching the boundless buzz that’s smothered each and every tired Tips for 2008 article. The brisk, ska-flecked majesty of A-punk makes for a distinguished, entertaining tune, if disappointingly short. Ah well, just provides a reason to stick it on repeat.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Feeling - Join With Us (Island)

Talk about big shoes to fill. Our inane gushing over Twelve Stops And Home, the debut album from The Feeling, certainly presented its down points. Off the back of our obsession, two highly impeccable live performances seemed largely dry in comparison – and now with their second album accosting the shelves, it too will have a bitch of a time fighting the shadow of its predecessor.

And, much like Twelve Stops And Home, there’s no one genre in which you could shoehorn Join With Us. The disheartening allure of Without You; the drunken waltz of Don’t Make Me Sad; the now-familiar pulsating pop of lead single I Thought It Was Over – there are twice as many ticked boxes as there are tracks. But at first listen, Join With Us lacks a depth that previous material held in abundance.

Take for instance, Turn It Up, with its iffy balance of blandness and bells ‘n’ whistles, which turns proceedings all a bit Margate. Elsewhere, Spare Me reaches for the profundity and sensitivity of Blue Piccadilly, yet just falls short. There’s a very perceptible knowingness throughout much of the album, and it suffers ever so faintly for it.

That in mind, it seems The Feeling are at their best when drawing a line under their previous success, and referencing that of their musical forerunners. The title track sees a shameless channelling of ELO by way of the Beatles' Drive My Car (to great effect, we might add), a similar method employed by their orderly take on the Beach Boys on the exuberant Won’t Go Away.

However, this approach has its negatives. As addressed in our recent Single Review, it’s hard not to be distracted by Dan Gillespie-Sells’ exasperating Americanisation of his R’s, which is not only annoying given the otherwise quintessential Englishness of The Feeling, but is gratingly inconsistent. One minute it’s “never”, the next verse it’s “neveRRRRR”, as though he’s periodically possessed by Joss Stone.

Perhaps we’re nitpicking just a tad. On the whole, it’s hard to label Join With Us as anything other than a solid pop record. Sure, it may only scratch the surface where Twelve Stops And Home dug trenches, but we’re positive it’s all part of an unhurried evolution for what is, fundamentally, one of Britain’s most gifted bands. Which, loosely translated, means we’re putting all our hopes into album three.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Single Reviews 18/02/08

Welcome, all, to this week’s Single Reviews, but a quick word before we begin. Just to save us writing a particularly biley entry in our ‘Ump column later this week, let’s just assume the Brits are reliably shambolic, and that we strongly disagree with at least 80% of the winners. Fuck, grrrr, hate, rant rant rant, etc etc. Now, shall we begin?

It’s a shame more people can’t be objective about Kylie Minogue. If she were actually informed when her shit singles are shit, she might focus a wee bit more on the decent stuff, which lately has become few and far between. Sounding every inch the soundtrack to a nominal-budget Arm & Hammer advert, Wow is the mark of one too many sycophantic yes men, resulting in one of 2008’s worst tracks thus far.

Hey, when did it become 2000 again? Last time we checked, the horror story that was UK garage had long been buried, together with any chance of Craig David ever bothering silver status again. However, the dated and dismal What’s It Gonna Be, by something called H “Two” O (their inverted commas, not ours) relives the tacky, ham-fisted genre, last exhumed by that fucking Babycakes monstrosity.

The amount of obsequious cooing over pasty whingebag Adele feels even more irrelevant when you consider the vast superiority and overall potential magnitude of Duffy. Coming across not unlike a considerably acidic Dusty Springfield, yet with a significant measure of originality, Mercy is the perfect vehicle for what promises to be an enormous talent. Single of the Week, by a long margin.

Lastly, Mark Ronson flogs us yet another quirky reworking – or demonstration of amateurish butchery, depending on your perspective – from his Version album, this time a take on Radiohead’s Just. It’s all good fun, but it’s Ronson-by-numbers, leading us to think it’s time he put the album to bed. And no matter how much this may seem like an insult, it genuinely isn’t intended – but it’s not a patch on the Liberty X rendition of High & Dry. No, really.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Honking Box Review: Lily Allen & Friends

We’ve never been able to make a definite evaluation as to whether we like or dislike Lily Allen. At least a good three-quarters of her songs are likeable; she’s definitely got a personality on her; and she’s a far better candidate for flying the Union Jack in the US than, say, Natasha frickin’ Bedingfield. But there’s one thing we don’t like about Lily Allen.

When not ratting out her siblings via the medium of song, Lily’s favourite pastime is shooting her mouth off about anyone and everyone, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself (hell, it’s the very foundations of our existence). However, whenever anyone bites back – as was the case with Dame Cheryl Tweedy – she decides to play the injured puppy, hammering out an immediate blog entry dripping with sanctimonious self-pity.

Sadly for Lily, such paradoxical hogwash is carried over into her new BBC Three show, Lily Allen and Friends, a programme that supposedly celebrates social networking yet, ironically, displays a complete lack of social skills. Lily looks like a Russ Troll in headlights whenever the banter deviates slightly from her appalling questions, which themselves are seemingly plucked straight from press releases and Wikipedia biogs.

Any scripted links are delivered with an aggravating up-down intonation, as is displayed by many a model, Big Brother contestant or low-rate sportsperson when attempting to tackle a jammily-landed presenting role, who seem to think it’s an adequate substitute for actual charisma.

And while we’d be reluctant to have the tiniest iota of faith in anything reported in a scabloid, it’s not difficult to believe that a chunk of the audience legged it halfway through recording. Sycophantically whooping and applauding at every single noun uttered must be entirely exhausting.

Oh, and look! It’s ‘internet sensation’ Chris Crocker! Seriously, for a show that was only filmed several days ago, this was the best they could come up with? Next week, Lily performs a duet version of Badger Badger Badger with the Dancing Baby, followed by a rendition of the Hamster Dance song by Lonelygirl15.

All in all, not a great way to relaunch BBC Three. Perhaps it’ll pick up a bit as the series continues, like The Charlotte Church Show did… oh hang on – that sucked hairy dog arse as well. And we’re no closer to figuring out whether we love or hate Lily Allen, although Lily Allen & Friends has confirmed that there are definitely now two things we don’t like about her.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Single Reviews 11/02/08

A wise man once said “the internet is for porn”. Except it wasn’t a wise man, it was a kick-ass pseudo-muppet. And it wasn’t said, it was sung. But we digress - last week’s joke mention of how Holly Willoughby’s norks would up our hits significantly proved frighteningly accurate. On Thursday alone, 79 separate perverts users stumbled across The Sloppy Dog by Googling “Holly Willoughby tits”. Well, sadly no visuals at this point, fellas, but do stay and enjoy the Single Reviews now that you’re here. And mind not to get it in the keyboard, you filthy wee bastards.

First up, three and a half minutes of absolutely sodding fuck-all, which comes courtesy of Goldfrapp. Jeez, at least their shittier material had a bit of substance - all bleeps and blips and arrogance and really, really weak attempts to cover up the ageing process. However, A & E is a short, slow, noiseless spurt of wind from the world’s dullest arsehole. If only it actually had a tune, or lyrics, or a beginning/middle/end, we could actually muster up some kind of aversion…

The Coral next, who provide am uncharacteristic gentle lull. While Put The Sun Back is undoubtedly a pleasant, dreamlike sway in its own right, it simultaneously serves to underline that The Coral do upbeat far better than mid-tempo summer lullabies - certainly no detraction from the song in itself, but you’d be hard pushed to better the likes of Dreaming of You.

God bless the Scott-Lee family. Although we genuinely like Michelle Heaton-Scott-Lee, the rest of them are a priceless objet d’art in irony, if something of an easy target. So we’ll be handling the debut single from Andy Scott-Lee with a pair of particularly spongy kid gloves. In fairness, Unforgettable is no worse than anything any solo boybander has put out, but it’s certainly not something that’ll be bothering the upper end of the charts anytime soon. Just to re-iterate, God bless ‘em.

And finally, we reach our hallowed Single of the Week. As a band who’ve been awarded the honour on no less than three occasions, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I Thought It Was Over - the comeback single from The Feeling - clocks up a fourth nod. And in spite of its merry refrain, insane catchiness and underlying house thump, we can find a fault - Dan Gillespie-Sells’ inexplicable Americanisation of the word “over” grates heavily, especially given his quintessential Englishness. But in the bigger picture of an engaging, superb track, we can just about overlook it. Bring on the album!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Sloppy Dog Spicewatch

Truth be told, we didn't think we would ever be bollocksed to roll out another article for our short-lived SpiceWatch column. Aren't you lucky, then, that an article submitted to Record Collector magazine got rejected? Not so lucky for us, mind...

As the Spice Girls shift their nostalgia behemoth into fifth gear, it’s worth examining to what extent their phenomenon translates into strict 21st Century provisos. A greatest hits album, showcasing all nine number ones. A world tour, which, lest the press releases forget to mention for a millionth time, included London dates which sold out in 38 seconds. But how much does this high-yield homecoming project actually do the Spice legacy justice?

Early live reviews would suggest they’ve nailed it pretty well. All the classics are on show, some displayed in full 90’s regalia, others sympathetically updated for a contemporary audience. The Times called them “consummate entertainers”, the Toronto Globe & Mail said they “wowed fans with a tightly staged and ambitiously choreographed performance”, while the Evening Standard remarked “one has to conclude that this is ebullient pop music of a very high standard, presented with panache.”

Thumbs up all round, then. And yet their Greatest Hits album has failed to steamroller its way to Number One, as the above hype would’ve suggested. Admittedly, they probably hadn’t foretold a release the same week as champion robo-diva Leona Lewis, which goes some way to explaining a very respectable No. 2 placing, but it’s a far cry from the power-platinum debut that surmounted the globe.

Spice (Virgin, 1996), while heralded into play by the exemplary gaudy Wannabe, carried an overall sophistication far surpassing the playground chants of its lead single. The shadowy, near-macabre Naked and the raw comic feminism of Love Thing - never mind the fact that this album earned them a place on the Mercury Music Prize shortlist and an Ivor Novello award - were clear indications that early one-hit wonder labels couldn’t have been any wider of the mark.

Second album Spiceworld (Virgin, 1998) paradoxically feels less mature than Spice. A comprehensive take on a number of musical genres made for a friskier disposition overall. Nods to rock (Move Over) and Motown (Stop), via pseudo-disco (Never Give Up On The Good Times), Spanish lullabies (Viva Forever) and cringe-inducing brass (The Lady Is A Vamp), Spiceworld saw the phenomenon prolonged significantly, profitably transporting them to their first world tour.

And so onto the urban overtones of Forever (Virgin, 2000), complete with heavy vocal layering, harder beats and peppered with the chatter of Rodney Jerkins. Their first (and only) album without Geri Halliwell, Forever wasn’t received particularly well, in terms of critique or units shifted. However, it led the way for an R&B re-reading of Spice, which on revision, was similarly feline, soulful and slinky, albeit with a touch more twinkle. Ginger-absence aside, what was the major difference?

Examining Forever, it underlines a contradiction indicating that perhaps the British public won’t ever be happy. The Spice Girls have been all but sent to the Tower for comeback single Headlines (Friendship Never Ends), an archetypal golden-era Spice ballad, which has despondently imparted their worst chart performance to date - something which the tabloids have leapt upon with a morbid verve. It all sounds a bit “old”, apparently. And yet, when Forever was launched by the highly-fashionably R&B squelcher Holler, the girls were similarly panned for attempting to be something they weren’t.

But then, in seven short years, music consumption has changed drastically. Fly-on-the-wall talent shows, a la Popstars or Totally Boyband, coupled with insider-driven websites such as Popjustice have crafted a generation of backseat A&R men, littering messageboards with how much better they’d have handled the Greatest Hits project than Simon Fuller or EMI did.

The aforementioned Headlines, which redefines the term slow-burner, with the second new recording, the horrific Voodoo - an aural representation of a low-rent Blackpool hen party - just weren’t going to cut it. Cyberspace had been abuzz with far greater expectations. Where was the live favourite W.O.M.A.N., criminally never committed to record? The Elton John-penned My Strongest Suit, given a Spice-over for his 1998 Aida soundtrack? The Spice-era recordings Feed Your Love and C U Next Tuesday, initially shelved thanks to their somewhat objectionable titles?

Alas, the Sandra-Bernhard-in-The-King-of-Comedy-style followers have had to make do with the two supposedly sub-par new tracks. Still, for the more casual fan, or more importantly, the layman with one eye nonchalantly on the CD chart at Sainsbury’s, twelve memorable singles (plus the additional Pepsi anthem) makes for quite an impressive anthology of buoyant, quality pop songs.

Meanwhile, given that their respective solo projects are often dismissed at the first mention, it’s easy to forget that the Spice Girls clocked up a total of 13 solo albums between them. And while some (Brown’s kitchen-produced LA State of Mind; much of Halliwell’s cartoonish catalogue) are arguably deserving of such reproach, moments of pop magnificence shine out from a number of these records.

Bunton’s affable nods to Carnaby Street exquisiteness, showcased brilliantly in the 2003 single Maybe. Chisholm’s versatility and musicianship (This Time’s flamenco-inflected Don’t Let Me Go; Northern Star’s sincere, affecting Feel The Sun; or the strident call-to-arms Last Night On Earth from Beautiful Intentions) soundly elucidating her lead. And perhaps surprisingly, even the debut (and only) album from Beckham, an eponymous assortment of R&B-lite - if somewhat overtwiddled - pop pearls.

While their solo ventures vary from the ludicrous to the sublime, none are necessarily true bearers of the Spice kitemark, post-split. And yet, their effects as a band have still been very much felt during their non-attendance. Girls Aloud’s last tour saw them performing a Spice medley in tribute to their adolescent heroes. Less in-your-face girl groups such as the Sugababes and Destiny’s Child have each hailed the influence of the Spice Girls in their own careers. Even the aloof, icy superiority of All Saints would have been unlikely to turn many heads had it not been for the Spice Girls, acting as an antithesis to their day-glo pandemonium.

But for now, the original article is back to show us how it was done. It may only be for the duration of a (speculatively) farewell tour, but it’s nonetheless a fitting opportunity to revisit a catalogue of pop majesty that’s so often overshadowed by its own brand. Even if the Spice Girls are finally closing the book on their career as a group, there’s plenty of life in their Greatest Hits - and each preceding album - for a long while yet.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Single Reviews 04/02/08

We often like to make reference to the week’s events when introducing our Single Reviews. So, with that in mind - Holly Willoughby’s tits, Holly Willoughby’s tits, Holly Willoughby’s tits, Holly Willoughby’s tits, Holly Willoughby’s tits, Holly Willoughby’s tits, Holly Willoughby’s tits. We can’t stand the dim-witted blow-up bonehead ourselves, but that last sentence alone should send our hit counter into orbit.

30 Seconds To Mars lead the pack this week, with a characteristically whingy emo epic. Despite feeling as though it’s been languishing on Kerrang and MTV2 since 2006, From Yesterday finally gets its UK release. In fairness, it’s actually somewhat far removed from their emo contemporaries, and hides a killer refrain. In fact, it’s our Single of the Week, if somewhat reluctantly-awarded. We still can’t forgive anyone responsible in any way for the hormonal train-wreck of My So Called Life.

That’s How People Grow Up is approximately the squillion-and-ninth solo release from Morrissey, and still he’s yet to top First of the Gang to Die. Early operatic wailings make way for a quintessential Morrissey number - strapping riffs, taut melodies and a sizeable dose of self-pity. Unlikely to catch the ears of anyone outside his hefty circle of crazed stage-huggers, but there’s very little to fault.

Rihanna make a roundabout apology for the inescapable Umbrella and the truly dire Hate That I Love You by way of the far superior Don’t Stop The Music. An unashamed nod to house - a rare feat from a non-European artist - makes this an immediate winner. And yet, the DJ-addressing cliché is dragged out once again - we hoped she’d put that shit to bed with Pon De Replay. Seriously, that “play my song/turn the music up/please Mr DJ” crap is a major Sloppy Dog pet hate, almost up there with Mika.

And speaking of Mika, the first replica of the hairy helium horse-fucker finally hits the market. David Jordan, a man so atrociously camp he actually makes Mika look like Evander Holyfield, minces into the spotlight with Sun Goes Down. And although it’s an observation made by numerous sources (including Chris Moyles, which technically should therefore negate it), the similarities to the Wizbit theme tune are astounding. You’ll be hard pushed to escape this tripe - be warned.
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