Friday, 27 February 2009

Metapost: Now 44 conclusions

It feels like a terribly long time ago that I started going over this album (it's actually about five weeks) but part of the reason I chose it in the first place was because it's the biggest seller of all the Now! albums and at last count remained among the all-time Top 50, despite having been on sale only briefly; it is, apparently, their policy to delete the albums after three years or so. Forty-two tracks later, do I understand why this happened?

Well, I don't think it was the exceptional quality of the music. Listening back now (admittedly from a 2009 perspective) confirmed my suspicion that some of the album is really good, some poor and some simply forgettable - but that's surely the case for any volume in the series. It could hardly be otherwise really. Neither could it really be said that this one offers an exceptionally broad range of musical styles: there's no hard rock, no hip-hop (unless you count 'S Club Party') and even the typical segment of "alternative" is reduced to three tracks, one of which is by Tom Jones. My best guess, beyond pure luck, is that it happened to hit a rich vein of not-very-album-focussed pop (it was rumoured at the time that some record labels intentionally held back big album releases for 2000, presumably because they thought people would be too busy paying to get into pubs on New Year's Eve to afford any records at the end of the year). Assemble enough of those and it's a strong commercial proposition.

If you can contain your excitement, I've already decided where I'm going next with this blog.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Liquid Child 'Diving Faces'

Chart Peak: 25


Needless to say, Now That's What I Call A Challenge does not in any way endorse copyright infringement, but it is rather helpful that somebody ripped this track straight off Now 44 so I could be sure I was listening to the right version.
Anyway, 'Diving Faces' represents journey's end for this particular album. It's the one track here that I was sure I'd never heard, nor even heard of, being a comparatively minor hit from an act not especially well-known; this may explain why it was pushed to the very end of the disc (and possibly also why we only get this rather brief edit, when longer versions evidently exist).

For a moment, I thought about bringing on a guest blogger for this track, as it's so remote from any music I know anything about. I don't mean that as any kind of insult to the record itself, because I'm sure a lot of people who love this couldn't grasp what I like about The Wedding Present either - it's just a different set of priorities. Trance is such foreign territory to me that I'm not completely sure I'd even know this was trance if I hadn't been told. I believe the people who tell me that this sort of thing is energising, and one of the other YouTube clips even shows some people being energised by a version of this. But to me, sitting in front of a computer on a February evening? Nope. And those whispered vocals (which I suspect are a later addition, as they certainly don't appear on all versions of the song) are more creepy than appealing to me. I might as well be trying to review a book in a language I can't understand, frankly.

I presume, although I haven't bothered to research it, that "diving faces" is a reference to people in clubs who seem to be gasping for air. I'll let you guess for yourself what would cause them to do that.

Available on: Classic Trance Nation

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Tina Cousins 'Angel'

Chart Peak: 46


Yes, you read that right. This only got to 46, admittedly only a few weeks before the album was released. But this being her second consecutive single to fall short of the Top 40, it's hard to imagine anyone really fancying its chances of being a big hit. Perhaps they got this as a job lot with the Steps track: they both worked with Pete Waterman, and Cousins was the first to record 'Deeper Shade Of Blue', later a Steps hit. Presumably she was considered due to her success as a guest vocalist for Sash!

I can't entirely remember whether I heard this at the time, but hearing it now I wouldn't expect to be able to remember it. The rather odd video might have stuck in my mind though. Musically, it does sound a bit like, well, a rejected Steps track, more than anything I'd recognise as dance music. There are some vague intimations of a beat, but it doesn't really gel. Although Cousins never really caught on as a solo artist in her home country, she managed more success in Australia, which explains how she ended up on a telethon with Tim Brooke-Taylor over there. Now we know what the internet was invented.

Also appearing on: Now 42, 43
Available on: Smash Hits 2000

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Alena 'Turn It Aound'

Chart Peak: 14


Another one I can recall only by the melody of the title line, so I'm not completely sure if I've found the right version. I have a vague recollection that this was widely expected to become a rather bigger hit than it ultimately became.
According to the Internet, the Alena to whom this is credited was Jamaican singer Alena Lova, but the man behind the record was Dutch producer Carlo Resoort, better known as founder of the act 4 Strings. Indeed he re-recorded this song as part of the latter act five years later and was rewarded with a UK Top 50 hit. That rendition has a far weaker vocal, though, which makes this one sound considerably better in comparison. Maybe I'm just getting demob-happy as the end of the album approaches, but I did actually like this one more than a lot of the other dance tracks I've made my way through in recent days.

Available on: Kiss in Ibiza '99

Monday, 23 February 2009

Alice Deejay 'Back In My Life'

Chart Peak: 4


A single that entered the chart the same week as Now 44 itself, so its inclusion here was clearly a prediction of success, and an accurate one at that.
Impressively, my wife actually recognised the voice of Judy Pronk when I played this track. In a way, she almost outdid me there because I might have struggled had I not known to start with. Rather like ATB a few tracks ago, this was the follow-up to a massive hit that had appeared on Now 43. And again, I remembered them having the hit, but nothing about the track itself. In all honesty, I probably tried not to hear it too much at the time but the fact remains that this sounds suspiciously like The Hit ('Better Off Alone' in this case) without the interesting bits. I can be generous enough to imagine that if you like this sort of music you might enjoy this one, but I've got to admit it doesn't do anything for me. The formula lasted them a few more hits though, and apparently Pronk is now a make-up artist.

Also appearing on:
Now 43, 46
Available on: Who Needs Guitars Anyway?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Wamdue Project 'King Of My Castle'

Chart Peak: 1


Can you be free in a trestle? It's certainly a question you get plenty of opportunities to ponder during this track. At the risk of repeating what I've said before, there is a lot of repetition going on here. According to 'King Of My Castle' is the longest title of a Number One single with no repeated characters - which is exactly the sort of trivia I love, but it's the first thing I remembered about this track, alongside a Top Of The Pops performance where the group barely moved a muscle. I don't know that I blame them: for a dance record, there's not a lot to get you moving.

Number One singles were coming thick and fast around the turn of the century, but I think this must be among the least remembered of them, certainly among ones not by established acts. It doesn't put a foot wrong, but all of it is so by-the-book that it's hard to say much for it, either.

Available on:

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Groove Armada ft Gram'ma Funk 'I See You Baby'

Chart Peak: 17


Note: according to the list I'm writing from, the version on the album is the Fatboy Slim remix edit, although that didn't become an A-side until 2004. It's just as well, because Groove Armada apparently won't let me view the original video from the UK. Anyway, I'm open to correction on this point from anyone who owns Now 44.

Groove Armada are an act who've grown on me somewhat in recent years, for reasons I can't wholly explain. Perhaps it's because ten years ago everyone seemed so determined that they were going to be massive, and so much of their material got used for adverts, trailers and so on that it got rather tiresome. One reason I'm not typically a fan of dance music is the heavy use of repetition, and there's certainly plenty of that here, which was a problem at the time but when I hear the track now, I don't mind so much. In fact, I even heard their later hit 'Superstylin' on the radio yesterday and didn't mind it. That's progress.

Also appearing on: Now 50, 67, 68
Available on: The Best Of

Friday, 20 February 2009

DJ Jean 'The Launch'

Chart Peak: 2


Another one kept off the top by Lou Bega, which certainly puts him higher in my estimation. I try not to be driven by my prejudices when I write these things, but this is the sort of thing that really doesn't do it for me. There's something in the tone of that parping synth line that grates on me, but I think the worst thing about this is that we get a lot of "Get ready for the launch" and a big countdown, followed by... exactly the same tune that was playing before anyway.

If I concentrate hard enough, I can imagine how this might fit into a DJ set as a way to build up anticipation and get the crowd going on the way to a more interesting track. But it's beyond me why anyone would feel it worth their money to buy this as a single and listen to it at home.

Available on:
Massive Dance Hits 2000

Thursday, 19 February 2009

AtB 'Don't Stop'

Chart Peak: 3


It's pretty much all dance from this point onwards, folks. Andre Tanneberger had one of the biggest dance tracks of the year with '9pm (Till I Come)', which managed to hit the Top 75 on two different imports and a white label before it eventually topped the chart. That was on Now 43, though, so what we get here is the typical underwhelming follow-up: by his own admission 'Don't Stop' is just a weedy rehash of the original idea, but less well done. Despite its obvious success at the time (Top 3, and only one import version in the Top 75) I didn't remember much about it at all, and now I can tell why - it's just not memorable enough.

Also appearing on:
Now 43, 45
Available on: Seven Years: 1998-2005

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Shaft '(Mucho Mambo) Sway'

Chart Peak: 2


You can see why I was starting to get tired of the Latin music, can't you? For one week the Top 3 was this, 'Mambo No 5' and 'Mi Chico Latino'. This Shaft are not the same ones who did that novelty version of 'Roobarb & Custard' in 1991, but the difference isn't vast: it's still a sample-based track fitting in with a current trend. This Shaft were also Da Muttz, who did a 'Wassup' cash in...

The sample in this instance was from Rosemary Clooney's version of 'Sway', initially a UK hit for Dean Martin, although for legal reasons the released single uses a soundalike vocal. Either way, it's treated in the typical way of the time, looped in the usual way, treated with the usual effects and so on and so forth. It turns out better than many of these things do, which I'd attribute to the source material: it's good and was of course always intended for dancing, but it's not so unimpeachable that you can really object to it being played about with. Still not exactly my scene though.

Available on: The Ultimate Collection - Nineties

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Enrique Iglesias 'Bailamos'

Chart Peak: 3


It says on his YouTube profile that he's been a one-man ambassador of global culture since 1997. Back in 1999, though, it didn't seem that way - he was just another singer (albeit one with a famous parent) having a hit in the fashionable Latin style. In fact, I barely gave this record a second thought at the time.

I've given it a second one now. I can appreciate it's well put together, but it doesn't interest me much more than it did then. Perhaps it gains from the fact that there aren't dozens of similar tracks in the charts at the moment, but I still don't want to dance with him. Neither indeed do I want to see the film Wild Wild West which apparently includes this track. Maybe it's because this was from a movie that when the follow-up missed the Top 40 (in the very same week as Lou Bega's) I didn't think we'd be hearing from him again. Spare a thought for Julio Iglesais Jr...

Also appearing on: Now 51, 52, 53, 57 (with Kelis), 67, 68
Available on: Greatest Hits

Monday, 16 February 2009

The Vengaboys 'We're Going To Ibiza!'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


It's slightly difficult to know how to approach this one. It'd be very easy, but not very interesting, to dismiss it as rubbish. After all it is the Vengaboys. However,I can't deny that it's a record I look upon somewhat more favourably now than at the time, possibly because I'm not in the thick of it, so to speak. The other interesting way to look at it is to recall that it's based on Typically Tropical's 'Barbados', a song that sounds a bit disreputable nowadays. By turning it into a song about partying, they neatly avoid any potential offence, although they did undo this somewhat with their later hit 'Uncle John From Jamaica'.

One thing that I do recall bothering a lot of people at the time was the pronunciation of "Ibiza": if it's any consolation, it would appear that we in the English-speaking world have been mispronouncing the group's name all along. So, I don't really have the heart to be too critical of this record, but those computer-generated Vengaboys in the video - no, just no.

Also appearing on:
Now 41, 42, 43, 45, 46
Available on: Pop Party [Includes Bonus Karaoke CD]

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Ann Lee '2 Times'

Chart Peak: 2


I doubt anyone who knows me will be at all surprised to learn that I hated this record at the time simply for not being called 'Twice'. Additionally, dance records that feature long stretches of somebody singing "Doo-doo-doo-doo" have never been a favourite of mine.

Ten years on this wasn't as annoying as I thought it would be. That might partly be because I've only listened to it the once, but I'd also forgotten that there were any lyrics other than the title. Lee's voice is somewhat better than I'd recalled too, and vaguely makes me wish she'd used it on something more interesting: her one other UK hit, 'Voices' is little more than a re-run of this one.

Available on: Dreams

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Lolly 'Mickey'

Chart Peak: 4


Have I really just spent three and a half minutes of Valentine's Day listening to this? Well, at least I used the headphones so my wife didn't have to hear it - I wonder if that counts as a present.
Now, at the time my brother was quite keen of the Lolly singles, which were part of the massive explosion of light-hearted pop at the end of the decade. Perhaps had it been one of the others that had cropped up, I might have been more sympathetic, but this was a song that already bordered on the annoying, and is done no favours by this performance.

Incidentally, I realise she wasn't actually the small child she dressed up as, but it was still a bit of a surprise to learn that she's older than me.

Also appearing on: Now 43
Available on: My First Album

Friday, 13 February 2009

S Club 7 'S Club Party'

Chart Peak: 2


It seems only fair to warn people that this song contains the lyric "Hoochie Mama, show your nana!"

In October 1999, my brother was (jokingly) castigating me for not buying this group's debut album, plumping instead for an album by Gorky's Zygotic Mynci that was released in the same week. Although this was in fact the second S Club 7 single, following up their TV theme tune 'Bring It All Back', it sounds sort of like a debut. Not only does it (obviously) have their name in the title, it also introduces each member of the band by name (helpfully captioned in the accompanying video); beyond this exposition, it's a catchier song than its predecessor too.

That said, this is one track that's disappointed me here, because it has dated a lot worse than I thought. The hip-hop affectations are a lot more prominent than I remembered, and inevitably unconvincing. It sounds far more dated than I expected too (although of course those big "HEY" chants in the background are still to be heard in this week's chart thanks to TI). Unsurprisingly, the harder it tries to sound cool, the less it works. Still, if you agree that "Their aint no party like an S Club Party" {sic} then you can always book them. Well, three-sevenths of them. If they're all available that night.

And of course the great question that remains unanswered: how would I go about waving my hands in the air if I did care?

Also appearing on: Now 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 51, 52, 54 (as S Club), 55 (as S Club)
Available on: S Club

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Honeyz 'Never Let You Down'

Chart Peak: 7


One reason why the Now albums appealed to me as a subject was the secret history they seem to offer of their times. Because they're not compiled with any nod towards posterity, they present a pretty wide view of what was making an impression on the singles chart at any given time, so you can typically expect to find songs that are still heard to this day, songs that are regarded as follies of their time, and a lot of stuff that's simply vanished off the radar. I'd have put the Honeyz into the latter category; a group who managed five consecutive Top 10 singles (of which this is the fourth) but a decade on are only heard of as a question on Popmaster, which nobody ever gets right.

As it turns out, somebody remembers them well enough to have generated a remarkably detailed Wikipedia entry, from which I learn that this single was the debut of their second lineup, Mariama Goodman having joined from Solid Harmonie. It's helpful to have some factual information here, because this is another song that I struggle to form a strong opinion on. The chorus, I suppose, is solid enough that I was able to call it to mind before I looked it up on YouTube, but otherwise there's little to catch the ear - it's a typical British attempt to replicate the least interesting end of RnB. It's well put together, but goes nowhere. It may be no accident that the run of Top 10 singles I mentioned above was followed by two singles missing the Top 20 and the end of their record contract, or that so few people seem to have noticed when they reformed in 2005. I don't want to sound too mean here, but there's not a lot going on.

Also appearing on: Now 41, 42, 43, 45
Available on: Wonder No.8

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Gabrielle 'Sunshine'

Chart Peak: 9


Already into her second comeback, Gabrielle rather surprised me with the success of this single. She's an act I've often felt rather ambivalent about - a performer of obvious talent whose records I often didn't really appreciate. This was her first Top 10 single since a painfully superfluous cover version of 'Walk On By', which rather seemed to prove the point.
'Sunshine' is definitely better than that, but it remains surprisingly low-key for a comeback single (even if you find a more audible copy than the official YouTube version). Part of the reason for these sales must lie in the skilful choice of remixes for the B-side (the Wookie mix seems to have gone down especially well), but it also seems that the song hit a nerve. It was apparently written as a tribute to her son and the relief he brought to her often troubled life: not least the fact that his father was sent to prison soon after he was born. Even though I don't love this record, I'm pleased it did well.

Also appearing on: Now 25, 26, 27, 33, 35 (with East 17), 36, 45, 46, 47, 49, 50, 58
Available on: Rise

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Jordan Knight 'Give It To You'

Chart Peak: 5


Jordan Knight's only UK solo hit (and unless I'm mistaken, the only UK hit by any New Kid On The Block) is a bit of a lost one. It certainly doesn't seem easy to get hold of now, charity shops aside.
When I realised this one was coming up, I thought it was a prime candidate for sounding dated, because it seemed so up-to-the-minute a decade ago. It's actually weathered surprisingly well considering - yes, it sounds of its time, but it's not yet reached the stage of being laughable, at least not in musical terms. You can chalk that one up to the production skills of no less than Jam & Lewis. What I'd forgotten until re-listening (although it didn't go unnoticed at the time) was how dirty this song is lyrically. I know it's called 'Give It To You' and all, but he really does push things about as far as he could within the boundaries of teen-friendly pop; the song was, I now learn, co-written by later solo star Robin Thicke. I also dimly recalled the please-don't-sue-us-copyright-owners-of-Grease video, although just between you and me, I thought the girl looked better with the glasses.

Successful as this one single was though, it couldn't push the album higher than 135, and as a result no further UK releases were forthcoming. Further singles in his homeland failed to match this sort of sales, which is probably why there's a new NKOTB single out this week. I hadn't made the connection until I read the YouTube comments, but now I come to think of it, every day that Justin Timberlake sits at home counting his money, and doesn't have to go on tour with Joey Fatone, Lance Bass and the other ones, he should be thinking "There, but for the grace of God..." He probably doesn't though.

Available on:Kiss Smooth Grooves 2000 R&B Club Hits

Monday, 9 February 2009

Backstreet Boys 'Larger Than Life'

Chart Peak: 5


Well, you can't accuse them of underselling it: especially not in the video, where it's almost a minute in before the song even starts. But after the last few tracks, it's certainly a relief to run into something upbeat, even if overblown. Lyrically, the boys are showing commercial nous in praising the fans who, after all, paid their wages.

At the time, Backstreet seemed to rank among the most annoying of boybands, and their ballads are still pretty sick-making. And of course this is a pretty blatant re-hash of 'Everybody (Backstreet's Back)'. But this probably scrapes by as a job well done, if you're prepared to meet it half-way.

Also appearing on: Now 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 43, 45, 46, 48, 49, 51
Available on: Greatest Hits: Chapter 1

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Martine McCutcheon 'I've Got You'

Chart Peak: 6


I recall that at some point, around the time when it became clear that Martine McCutcheon was going to leave her role in Eastenders in order to pursue a singing career, I heard her on a TV show demonstrating that, unlike many a soap star, she actually could sing. Just as well, it turned out, since her character was ultimately killed off, apparently against the wishes of the actress.

What she couldn't really do, though, was write songs, so she ended up at the mercy of the material handed to her. Some of her album tracks were collaborations with the singer-songwriter duo Ben & Jason, which might have been interesting to hear, but somebody seems to have slipped up badly in the choice of single material, hence the relative brevity of her chart career. 'I've Got You' is a case in point, coming over like an even less interesting version of the Lighthouse Family. To her credit, McCutcheon makes a valiant effort, and resists the temptation to oversing in an attempt to compensate for the material, but the ultimate effect is still of rather a non-event.

I suppose this is the sort of record that really brings home why I put the word "challenge" in the name of this blog. It's not bad, or anything, it's just a struggle to find anything interesting to say.

Also appearing on: Now 43, 45, 47, 48
Available on: You, Me & Us

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Tin Tin Out featuring Emma Bunton 'What I Am'

Chart Peak: 2


I was quite surprised, when I first got a chart reference book to look it up in, to discover that 'What I Am' by Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians only got to Number 31 in the UK. It seemed to be everywhere when it was out, but maybe it was disproportionately popular in London.

Either way, it probably looked like an opportunity to Tin Tin Out, the low-profile production act who managed no fewer than nine Top 40 hits between 1994 and 1999. And what better way to help this single along than to enlist Emma Bunton, for her first release outside the Spice Girls? Well, I'm sure that was the plan, but it flounders on the sheer familiarity of the original, which emphasises how little imagination seems to have gone into this, right the way down to the note-for-note replication of the original guitar solo. Anybody who didn't like the one version wasn't going to like the other; and this is probably why you don't often hear this one now.
However, since EMI decided to release this and the Geri Halliwell record on the same day to launch the inevitable Spice battle, it's hard to resist the comparison. Against that, this can at least claim to be a memorable (if potentially irritating) song, and Bunton's vocal, though not outstanding, at least projects more personality and some sense of enjoyment instead of heavy breathing. Nonetheless, an air of pointlessness pervades the whole exercise, which is as good an explanation as I cna think of for this one coming in second.

Tin Tin Out also appear on: Now 30 (with Espiritu) 38 (with Shelley Nelson)
Emma Bunton also appears on: Now 48, 50, 55, 56, 57
Available on: A Girl Like Me

Friday, 6 February 2009

Geri Halliwell 'Lift Me Up'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)


I suppose if there's one distinctive feature of this particular era in chart history, it's the media-amplified battle for Number One. Of course the mother of all these was Blur v. Oasis in 1995, but with hindsight it was very much a product of the times when virtually all Number Ones entered at the top so the loser had little chance of claiming the same glory later.

This and the track that follows it on the album were at the time hyped as just such a battle, not least because of the link between the acts involved, but it's fair to say that it hasn't exactly gone down in pop history as a major event. Much of the blame here must lie with the records themselves, because this one is as painfully thin as Halliwell looks in the video (which, incidentally, I'd never watched all the way through before - Hmmm, even aliens seem to go off the idea of abducting her once she starts singing to them). This is obviously an attempt to project the softer, more romantic side of her, but with trite lyrics set to a melody that's all but non-existent, the focus is on her not-really-much-cop vocal. What single could be lame enough to lose a chart battle to this? Find out tomorrow...

Also appearing on: Now 43, 45, 49, 50, 51, 60
Available on: Schizophonic

Thursday, 5 February 2009

R-Kelly 'If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time'

Chart Peak: 2


It doesn't seem the most obvious place to start the second disc - or anything else for that matter. I was curiously reassured to see, when I found this video on YouTube, that it really is seven minutes long, because I recall it coming up on the telly over and over again and seeming to go on for ages: apparently there is a five-minute radio edit of the track, but anyone who bought the single had to sit through the full version. It really only needs to be about thirty seconds long though

Kelly was a prolific artist (quite apart from his input as a producer or writer for other acts) so his Now appearances only seem to scratch the surface of his huge output around the turn of the century: this was famously the seventh hit to appear on his double album R. Sadly, they tend to scratch the most boring side of it too - few of his more hilarious tracks crop up, and instead we're lumbered with the most generic RnB pumps and the dullest ballads. Even among the latter this stands out for its deep commitment to dullness - the whole song is basically in the title, and the tune, I finally realised, is 'Speak To Me Someone' - in fairness, it's a pretty standard riff, and they're neither of them a million miles from 'Unchained Melody'. But I can't help resenting something with so little substance taking up so much of my time.

Also appearing on: Now 28, 29, 30, 37, 40 (with Sparkle), 41, 51, 55, 59
Available on: The R In RnB Collection Vol. 1 - Greatest Hits

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Phil Collins 'You'll Be In My Heart'

Chart Peak: 17


You wouldn't know it just from the video but this, his last major hit with new material, comes from the Disney film of Tarzan - the only concession the vid makes to its cinematic origins is in the scenes where Phil is singing in a cinema seat (it's unclear why none of his fellow patrons tell him to shut up!). In fact, apart from some of the special effects there's precious little evidence that this isn't from his 80s pomp: to my eyes at least he looked much older in those days than he actually was, so I suppose the advantage is that you don't look much different fifteen years on. There's even a scene where they shine a red light on him so he looks like a baked bean, just as he did on the cover of No Jacket Required!

I decided actually watching the film was beyond the call of duty, but apparently it's sung by a gorilla there. Hmm... a gorilla performing the music of Phil Collins... there may be something in that idea. Anyway, it packs in the most of the necessary cliches about always being there for somebody, other people not understanding, etc. But the music fails to pack the necessary punch, which may be part of the reason I have no memory at all of ever hearing it before. And indeed, is why I probably never will again.

Also appearing on: Now 1, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 27, 41, 68.
Available on: Love Songs: A Compilation... Old and New

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Supergrass 'Moving'

Chart Peak: 9


The last Top 10 single by Supergrass is a record I've always felt curiously ambivalent about. I can appreciate it, and I caught myself mumbling along with the chorus once or twice while I was playing it back. And yet somehow I wouldn't say I liked it. Part of the trouble is that it's yet another in the seemingly endless catalogue of songs about the frustrations of life as a touring musician, which is always difficult to sympathise with, unfair as this might be; it wasn't even new subject matter for the band, who'd already covered this topic on such songs as 'It's Not Me' and 'You Can't See Me'. The video only accentuates this, of course.
I think there might be more to it than that, though. Something to do with the fact that even though their first album, I Should Coco, was one of my favourites at the time, I didn't bother to buy the third one. In fact, even when my dad got a free copy of it, I don't think I ever got round to listening to it before I left home. They sound very jaded at this point in their career - which might not be inappropriate for the subject matter of this particular song, but spoils the experience a bit anyway. The production (by the band themselves) sounds a bit stodgy and fails to capture the energy of their earlier work. It's hard not to suspect that at this point in their career, they were trying too hard to escape the shadow of their biggest hit, 'Alright'.

Mind you, it hasn't got any worse over the years, and probably sounds better in this context near the end of a long disc than as the opener to an album.

Also appearing on:
Now 31, 33, 37, 43, 53
Available on: Supergrass

Monday, 2 February 2009

Bran Van 3000 'Drinking In LA'

Chart Peak: 3 (34 in 1998)


The second post on this blog about an act from Quebec, fact fans!
I have a feeling that I didn't actually like this record when it first came out and became a minor hit in 1998. I don't think I actually disliked it either, but I was a bit suspicious of a lot of the post-Beck slacker-rock stuff that seemed to be emerging as Britpop wound down. However, I think it was that Christmas that my brother got their remarkable album Glee, which made it clear that this Canadian collective had more to them than the Marcy Playgrounds of this world - though curiously, even after this track became a huge hit, no further UK singles were extracted from the album.
Then this song was reused in a beer commercial, and became inescapable for a while, which put me off it again for a good couple of years. But here in 2009, it's sounding pretty good. I was never much of a drinker - and I've never been to LA, in fact - so songs about boozing tend not to interest me much, but this connects to the older tradition of songs about aimless drinkers. Whilst the mellow vibe about the track indicates that they're having fun, they're not revelling in the booze like William Hague; they chorus does, after all, ask what the hell they're doing drinking and getting nothing done. That tendency to distraction certainly is something I can recognise, bearing in mind the day or two it usually takes me to write one of these short posts... It does make this seem a laughably inappropriate song to advertise beer with though.

In a reverse of the situation with yesterday's Tom Jones track, this record proves its worth through an inferior cover version. Briefly popular latterday baggy act The Twang reached Number 63 with it (as the flip of their own 'Push The Ghosts' and, well, they sounded like they couldn't see anything wrong. Fair play to them and all, but the song doesn't work that way. And in case you ever need to know this for a quiz somewhere, BV3's only other Top 40 single to date was the rather fine Curtis-Mayfield-sampling 'Astounded'.

Available on: Glee (MP3 album)

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Tom Jones and The Cardigans 'Burning Down the House'

Chart Peak: 7


It's relatively recently come to my attention that Talking Heads are one of the greatest rock groups of all time. Unfortunately, they seem to have eluded the compilers of Now albums, so this is the only occurrence of one of their songs here.

The original was a Top 10 single in the USA and Canada but surprisingly failed to breach even the Top 100 in the UK, even though they'd already managed a breakthrough here with 'Once In A Lifetime'. The form in which the song finally reached the UK chart is scarcely less peculiar - Tom Jones's only Top 10 single of the decade, and the first single from his album Reload (not to be confused with Metallica's disc of the same title) which proved to be his biggest seller of all time. It was an example of the turn-of-the-century trend for duets albums with Jones singing a variety of cover versions alongside younger stars - but even allowing for the premise it's an odd place to start the campaign.

I hadn't noticed until I compared them, but this version is slightly faster than the Talking Heads version, though it runs a bit longer, which is presumably why they seem to run out of song about two-thirds of the way through. The new arrangement is a little bit straighter than the original, lacking that odd buzzing guitar intro and with less of the squelchy sound that decorates the original track and 'Girlfriend Is Better'. Instead we get some brass instruments and a bit more synth, but the focus is on the vocal performances of Jones, who doesn't really do "subtle" and Nina Persson, who plays it very deadpan. Of course, the lyrics don't actually make very much sense, so Jones doesn't really have anywhere to take them, although he's clearly making an effort, and Persson's contribution is the more memorable of the two. At least, she seems more in keeping with the somewhat listless performance, whilst Jones seems a bit out of place on his own record. It would sound OK if you didn't know there was another version, though.

Tom Jones also appears on:
Now 13 (with Art Of Noise), 45 (with Stereophonics), 46 (with Mousse T), 47 (with Heather Small), 64 (with Chicane), 72 (with Vanessa Jenkins, Bryn West and Robin Gibb)
The Cardigans also appear on: Now 37, 41, 42
Available on: Reload (Re-issue)