Monday, 12 October 2009

Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua 'What A Wonderful World'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


The success of Now 69 feels a bit like an anomaly - shouldn't compilation albums be an anachronism in the download era? Well, in one way this track gives the lie to that; its appearance here was the first time it had ever been available outside Tesco, since the original physical digital and physical singles were exclusive to that supermarket, producing as close to a surprise Number One as you seem to get nowadays.

That mildly interesting history doesn't make it a good record though. Of course it's for charity, but there's something about the whole concept of a beyond-the grave duet, especially since Cassidy's contribution appears to come from a lo-fi live recording. And she obviously sang with no expectation that anyone else would be joining in. Melua, who I don't actually mind as much as some people seem to, doesn't have much of a chance. Even so, we end up with a rather strained version of the overdone standard, which doesn't seem to convey any real joy or sadness. Of course it's unfair to criticise either of them, especially Cassidy, for being unable to supply the age that made Louis Armstrong's version so compelling; but surely they could have done better than this. Big hit though it was, it's a poor ending to the album.

Eva Cassidy also appears on: Now 48, 53
Katie Melua also appears on: Now 57, 62
Available on: The Katie Melua Collection (CD + BONUS DVD)

Friday, 9 October 2009

Amy Winehouse 'Love Is A Losing Game'

Chart Peak: 46


Ah, what can you say about Amy Winehouse? Well, rather a lot by the looks of things, but I'm not sure I can be bothered with any of it. In fact I even take a certain perverse pride in not being entirely sure whether that man glimpsed in the video is Blake Fielder-Civil.

Anyway, let's ignore the whole soap opera, except to note that one possible explanation for the underwhelming chart performance of the single was that she wasn't available to promote it much around the time of release (it was reported that a planned video shoot had to be cancelled in her absence, hence the cutting-room scrapings that ended up being used). Another reason is surely that it wasn't really necessary to pull a fifth single off the already very successful Back To Black album; although a deluxe version of the album was released at the same time, this wasn't new to it. It's a slightly odd choice of single at any time, because whilst well-received it's not an obviously dramatic attention-grabbing track. That's more a strength than a weakness, in this case, and in a way it seems like a better justification for all the fuss than some of her bigger hits; but it doesn't inspire strong reactions. It does give the album a sense of winding down and might even have been a good place to end it.

Also appearing on: Now 65, 66, 67, 68
Available on: Back To Black

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Goldfrapp 'A&E'

Chart Peak: 10


Despite their theoretically different backgrounds, this track seems to fit surprisingly well after the Sugababes, with its similar mood and arrangement, although the lyrics could not be much more different. It's hard to imagine the 'Babes ever singing impressionistically about being admitted to a hospital after a non-specific near-death experience. It's reckoned to be a metaphor for a bad relationship, although of course all too many people in bad relationships find themselves all too literally ending up in casualty.

The tinkly arrangement and pastoral atmosphere of the track seem to represent a return to the style of their first album Felt Mountain after the electro leanings of the intervening two: not necessarily the most commercial decision they could have made, but one I welcomed. I didn't welcome it enough to buy the thing though: well-done as this is (it sounds good on headphones) it just doesn't seem to grab me the way a single should, especially a Top 10 single.

Also appearing on: Now 62, 63
Available on: Seventh Tree

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Sugababes 'Change'

Chart Peak: 13


One of the most topical post titles you're ever likely to see on this blog, since I'm writing this shortly after the announcement that the last remaining original Sugababe has departed, with a fourth incarnation about to release a hastily re-recorded album.

But here we are at the end of 2007, with the title track of the third line-up's first album together. Though only the second single, it failed to make the Top 10 which seemed a bit of a flop at the time, but in a way it's not that surprising as there doesn't seem to be much song in there. It's obviously cut from the same cloth as other Sugababes slowies (which I admit I didn't like either) but all the little twinkly sounds in the world can't conceal the fact that it never seems to get anywhere, despite the title. Since the song seems to relate to some sort of bereavement, it's possible that there was some other motivation for releasing it as a single, but by normal standards it fails.

I think this is one of the few singles ever to be released as a USB stick, which somebody at Universal must have thought was a good idea. Also, what is going on with that video?

Also appearing on: Now 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 62, 63, 64, 66, 68, 70, 71, 74
Available on: Change

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Kate Nash 'Pumpkin Soup'

Chart Peak: 23


Full disclosure: Kate Nash is my boss's sister's neighbour's daughter.

But that didn't mean I liked 'Caroline's A Victim' or anything. And even when 'Foundations' first showed up, I was a bit unconvinced. It grew on me though, even if you allow for my bias.

One subject we can't avoid though: the voice. Living in Harrow myself, I know there are a lot of people round here who do sound like that, although I've never met anyone who sounds like Roy Stride from Scouting For Girls. Of course, it's a persona she adopts on some tracks and I can see why people dislike it, but I don't really have an objection myself. It's put to good use on the convincingly teenage 'Pumpkin Soup', where the colloquial performance lends the whole thing a sense of intimacy that helps the simple boy-meets-girl-girl-gets-confused story to ring true. It's also one of her strongest tracks musically, with credit due to producer and co-writer Paul Epworth. In places, the Made Of Bricks album suffers from a sense of confusion about which direction it's trying to go in, but in this one case they get it right, with a bubbly and instantly catchy backing track that supports the lyric without overpowering it.

Another of the few tracks from here that made it to my own MP3 player.

Also appearing on: Now 67
Available on: Made of Bricks

Monday, 5 October 2009

Amy MacDonald 'This Is The Life'

Chart Peak: 28


When this record first appeared, I have to admit I didn't really give it a very fair hearing. Instinctively cynical about any hyped new "singer-songwriter" I was deeply irritated by MacDonald's big hit 'Mr Rock And Roll', and hadn't much liked the preceding 'Poison Prince' either. Nor did I like the voice she affects on those two tracks, which seems rather forced as if she's trying to convince us she's more grown-up than the teenager that she was at the time of recording.

Eventually, though, I had to admit to myself that there was something insidiously catchy about this song, a major radio hit despite the underwhelming sales peak (and apparently an even bigger hit in other European countries). Whilst it's no masterpiece, the lyric offers some neat observational imagery, all the better for the fact that it doesn't seem to be trying to be the sort of social commentary that many of her other songs fail at. Even her voice appears a little more natural here. And so it is that, when I found Now 69 in that bin, this was one of the few tracks I moved to my own MP3 player, though I'd probably never have bought it with money.

Also appearing on: Now 68
Available on: This Is the Life

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Mark Brown featuring Sarah Cracknell 'The Journey Continues'

Chart Peak: 11


I don't know how many of the people reading this don't already know me well enough to be aware of this fact, but I haven't got a television at home. It's not a fact I'm always in a hurry to volunteer, because of come of the implications it seems to have for some people, but I mention it now to explain that when this record emerged, I seemed to be the only person in Britain who hadn't seen the advert that it's based on; I still haven't, in fact, although it's presumably online somewhere.

Anyway, the internet says that the track 'Eliza's Aria' (with the repeated soprano part) was used in a commercial which was itself entitled For The Journey, which makes the title of this record based on the sample seem a bit of a cash-in, especially since it's obviously not reflected in the lyric. Still, that's no reason to condemn it out of hand (especially since a song that actually did have that phrase in the lyric would probably be awful) and this isn't without merit. Even the parts that are original to this version are quite memorable, and there's something pleasingly melodic about it. And yet, for all that, I can't escape an odd sense that it sould be better than it actually is, somehow: perhaps part of the blame lies with Cracknell's vocal performance which I often find pretty but somehow unexpressive.

Available on: Original Hits - Dance

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Utah Saints 'Something Good 08'

Chart Peak: 8


In one way, this was among the most up-to-the-minute selections on the album, since the physical versions of the single were released on the same day as Now 69, although it had been charting on downloads for some time - indeed people even downloaded remix versions from compilation albums before the main version was available.

In another sense, of course, this was anything but moders, being a re-worked version of a hit from 1992, and of course even the original was built around a sample of 'Cloudbusting' by Kate Bush (although, oddly, that doesn't seem to have been cleared for this version and is replaced by a re-recording). There seemed to be a lot of these revivals of old dance tracks around at this time and I didn't really see the point of this, but the video's OK.

Also appearing on: Now 22 [original version of this track], 25
Available on: Now Dance Anthems

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Bloc Party 'Flux'

Chart Peak: 8


Continuing the electronic-indie crossover of the last track, but perhaps from a different direction, 'Flux' was considered a bit of a surprising shift for Bloc Party, who'd made their name as one of the many post-punk bands in the middle of this decade. They were never straight-ahead rock band as such, but the wholesale embrace of dance music surprised some listeners, particularly I suspect the ones who only knew the band by their singles. The public loved it though; whilst not their highest-charting single, it's by far their biggest seller. Mind you, this might be partly because it was a new track, added to their existing album A Weekend In The City and we didn't want to buy the album again (the fact that they've done similar things with their other two albums might reduce first-week sales of their fourth).

In fact, it's only in order to write this post that I've tried listening to the album with this track at the intended point in the sequence, and it's a standout in more ways than one. Much as it doesn't quite seem to fit into the rest of the album, it's an excellent track that takes on pop at its own game, capturing the confusion of the modern world (the modern world is always confusing of course, because it's the one you have to live your life in) and yet still remaining danceable. A stand-out track by an act at the top of their game, although there's no getting away from the fact that it's an awful name for a band.

Also appearing on: Now 60
Available on: A Weekend in the City (Special Edition)