Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Proclaimers featuring Brian Potter and Andy Pipkin '(I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles'

Chart Peak: 1 (3 weeks)


Nineteen years after it was originally a hit for the Scottish brothers, the Proclaimers return with a very special Comic Relief version of their catchy anthem 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)'...The song premiered on this year's Comic Relief and features the comedy talents of Peter Kay and Matt Lucas.

I can imagine this one might be somewhat difficult for non-British readers (if any) to appreciate. In essence this was an attempt to repeat the surprise success of 2005, when Tony Christie's 1970s hit '(Is This The Way To) Amarillo' was given a new video featuring comedian Peter Kay and many other guest stars. Released as a secondary single for the charity appeal, it went on to outsell that year's "official" single by miles and became one of the biggest hits of the decade.

Inevitably, Kay had to try the same thing two years on, but upped the ante by actually appearing on the record itself, in the guise of his character from the sitcom Phoenix Nights. Also featuring is fellow comic and well-known Proclaimers fan Lucas, here as one of the characters from Little Britain; the gag being that both these characters are in wheelchairs so they have to sing that they'd "roll 500 miles" instead of walk it. It's not the funniest joke ever, admittedly, but it worked well enough of the night as a vehicle for the video, where they perform in front of a cast of stars and ex-stars. Enough people downloaded the single on Saturday for it to enter the charts at 3 the next day and it was inevitably going to top the chart when available on CD and DVD formats with the video. It even pulled the original 1988 recording back into the Top 40, and led to something of a comeback from the Reid twins.

Five years down the line, it's not something you'd make a great effort to listen to but it's generally good humoured and certainly does what it sets out to do better than the Girls Aloud vs. Sugababes track that it deposed from the top of the chart. It's not a bad end to the album. It almost takes us back in a circle, with credits in the video like Justin Timberlake's track.

The Proclaimers also appear on: Now 13
Available on: The Best Of...

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Amy Winehouse 'You Know I'm No Good'

Chart Peak: 18

Best British Female of the moment according to the Brits voters, Amy Winehouse is on top form... She follows up the stomping No. 1 hit 'Rehab' with the bluesy, soulful 'You Know I'm No Good' - a stunning epiphany that "perhaps you can behave as badly as all those guys that have messed you around.
It's hard to know where to start with this one - other than by pointing out that of course 'Rehab' was not a Number One single: it peaked at 7, although thanks to its record-breaking chart run it's surely outsold the majority of singles that did top the chart in pop history. Despite that and the success of the Back To Black album, and even that of her debut LP come to that, in early 2007 there was still a sense that Winehouse was an act on the way up: and we were only starting to glimpse how big she was going to be. At this point she was just about to cross the border between being a successful musician and becoming part of the culture, somebody you could refer to in almost any conversation and be understood.

With hindsight it's easy to say that she'd have been better off not crossing over so far, knowing where that led. But at the time 'You Know I'm No Good', as second single from the album, seemed a key point in establishing that movement. It proved to be one of the lesser hits from there, but at the time it doubled her tally of Top 40 appearances and proved she wouldn't just be an album act, as well as being the impetus for the album to reach the top of the chart (though I believe sales that week were lower than when it entered at 3). It also seemed to have been written to reinforce her image as well. But is it a good song? Well, actually, yes, although it was far too overplayed for me to appreciate that at the time. Although Mark Ronson's productions soon fell into formula, he does do a genuinely good job here, blending the jazz and hip-hop elements seamlessly. And the horn arrangements are superb, particularly the descending passage in the middle section which feels like it's commenting on the protagonist as much as backing her. And whilst I'm not generally all that fond of people singing about how debauched they are, comparing this to the Sugababes track immediately before just shows how much more of a character this protagonist is. It's for this reason that the alternative radio edit (not featured here) with extra rapped verses by Ghostface Killer doesn't entirely work.

So, a good track that improves the end of the album, but maybe it would have better for all concerned had it not been quite as big after all.

Also appearing on: Now 65, 67, 68, 69
Available on: Massive R & B - Spring 2007

Monday, 28 May 2012

Sugababes 'Easy'

Chart Peak: 8


Co-written with Jason and George from Orson, 'Easy' was the trio's first release from The Singles Collection... Prior to its release the 'Babes had sold well over 2 million singles and had 4 UK No.1s as well as selling 5 million albums in their career to date.
I can't say I was aware that Orson had enough good songs to give them out to other people... And hearing this, I'm still not. To be fair to the boys, this isn't bad musically, in a squelchy sort of way, but the lyrics are an awful parade of unconvincing double-entendres ("Where's the mail for my mailbox"? Really?) crooned by the third incarnation of the band in that pouty way that 15-year-old girls think is sexy. The effect is more routine than rousing, and it's hard to believe they could get worse from this point, but they managed it. Mind you, it's not even their worst track on this album.

Also appearing on:
Available on: Overloaded: The Singles Collection

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Jamie T 'Calm Down Dearest'

Chart Peak: 9

'Calm Down Dearest' is the 3rd single from Jamie T's album Panic Prevention... The 20 year old South Londoner recorded the album in his bedroom, fusing folk with punk, reggae and hip-hop, producing a sound that's "uncategorisable and exciting".
I suggested at the time that had I been a bit nearer his age, I'd probably have really loved Jamie T. His blend of styles and his everyman persona seemed like a great reflection of the contemporary urban youth experience, but he often seemed a little too culturally specific for me to relate to. Still somebody who can use samples of John Betjeman and the Bonzo Dog DooDah Band (neither of them on this particular song) must have a bit more going on in his head than the average teen pop star.

In an interview I heard at the time, he admitted to having written this song while drunk and thus not being able to remember whether the title was inspired by those adverts with Michael Winner in them. In fact the lyric of this song isn't that coherent and partly for that reason - and partly because of the rather poor singing - this is my least favourite of his big hits, and it was only a matter of timing that it was his biggest. It did have a nice picture of a welcoming cat on the cover though, so that's a point in its favour.

Also appearing on: Now 67
Available on: Panic Prevention [Explicit]

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Lily Allen 'Alfie'

Chart Peak: 15

'Alfie' was penned by 21 year old Lily in an attempt to stop her younger bro wasting his life away... It is the 4th single from Lily's Brits nominated album Alright, Still and was released as a double A-side with 'Shame For You' in Feb 2007.
Maybe I shouldn't blame Lily Allen for how annoyingly ubiquitous she was in 2006-7, but it really did feel for a while like somebody was trying to brainwash us into liking her. She didn't want for publicity from the word go, and this certainly prompted some suspicion that her famous father (actor, comedian and star of Now 40 Keith Allen) had contributed to her ability to attract publicity, notwithstanding the record company's  decision to conceal her surname when the first tracks were circulated to the media. On the other hand, such protestations are undermined a little by the fact that one of those first songs was this little ditty about her brother, referred to by name in this song and implicitly not coming out of it well.

On the upside, as a later single this didn't get as overplayed as a lot of her other stuff, and the nursery-rhyme style of the music is better suited to her limited vocal abilities. Still not a record I can really warm to though. Meanwhile, the real-life Alfie Allen has apparently sorted himself out somewhat and joined the family business, and is apparently now starring in something called Game Of Thrones.

Also appearing on: Now 64, 65, 72, 73, 74, 76 [with Professor Green]
Available on: Alright, Still (Deluxe)

Friday, 25 May 2012

McFly 'Sorry's Not Good Enough'

Chart Peak: 3

'Sorry's Not Good Enough' was the boy's {sic} 2nd single from the album Motion In The Ocean - it gave the lads a Top 3 hit in December 2006, their ninth UK Top 3 single since they arrived on the scene with the No.1 smash 'Five Colours In Her Hair' in April 2004
It was of course the third single (after 'Please Please' and 'Star Girl'), and officially a double A-side with 'Friday Night', but this is the side that people remember, if they remember the single at all. By this stage in their career, McFly had acquired a reputation for short chart runs and highly frontloaded sales thanks to cleverly targetted marketing to the fans, which explains how this could smash in at 3 in Christmas week, and then tumble to 20 the week after even with the traditional nosedive of overall sales in that week; in fact 2006 was the last year that nosedive happened, but that's another story.

Certainly on the handful of occasions I heard this song at the time, I thought it perfunctory at best, but I have to admit that over the years I've rather come to the conclusion that McFly are a good pop thing. Obviously, somebody who counts 'Beetlebum' among his favourite Number One singles can hardly complain about anyone else having short chart runs, and I might be a tiny bit biased because Ton Fletcher is from Harrow, but I actually rather admire them for their tenacity and lack of pretension. This is still one of their less deserved hits, but sounds better now than I expected. The video's a bit dodgy though.

Also appearing on: Now 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 71, 77, 78 (with Taio Cruz)
Available on: Motion In The Ocean

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Feeling 'Love It When You Call'

Chart Peak: 18


'I Love It When You Call' {sic} is the Feeling's 4th hit from their hugely successful album Twelve Stops And Home... They have just embarked on a massive tour of the States before returning to the UK for a host of outdoor gigs and festivals in the summer.
As it says, their fourth Top 20 hit, but the first to fall short of the Top 10. I had actually liked some of their stuff at first but by this time their brand of knowing MOR was starting to get a bit stale, an odd combination of the attention-grabbing intro (all that bleeping) and the easy-listening style of the remainder of the song. It's unfortunate as well that the protagonist of this song comes over as so annoying and needy. If I were the person he's singing to, I wouldn't be calling him either.

Possibly the best thing about the song is this bizarre cover by Brian May and his protegee Kerry Ellis.

Also appearing on: Now 63, 64, 65, 69, 70
Available on: The Feeling - Singles (2006 - 2011)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Scissor Sisters 'She's My Man'

Chart Peak: 29


'She's My Man' is the 3rd single from the No. 1 album Ta-Dah... The track has been likened to Elton John's 1983 single 'I'm Still Standing' which is no surprise as the band admits he has heavily influenced their music. He collaborated with them on two tracks on Ta-Dah - 'I Don't Feel Like Dancin' and 'Intermission'.
Did Sir Elton secretly ghost-write the notes to these 2000s Now albums? He does seem to get mentioned a lot when they're talking about other people's records. Anyway, after their genuine collaboration with him had become the biggest hit of their career, 'She's My Man' was the obvious second single from the album, certainly radio's favourite track around the time of the release and a song that seemed likely to become a big hit. Unfortunately for them, somebody thought it would be a good idea to release the awful power-ballad 'Land Of A Thousand Words' instead and whilst that just about made the Top 20, it had little staying power and took a lot of the momentum out of their career. The wait for a third Top 10 hit goes on, with their most recent single entering at 12 this very week.

Anyway, my dispassionate calculation that this was released too late shouldn't be mistaken for enthusiasm for the song itself. They weren't a band I liked much in the first place and after a couple of years the novelty had really worn off. The falsetto voice of Jake Shears (not his real name) has always set my teeth on edge too, and this song is just full of their usual "ooh look at us we're crazy and a big gay" references. Actually, I meant to write "a bit gay" in that last sentence, but what I did type seems to capture the tone better. I can't deny that it's catchy though, and it is worth hearing the radio edit featured here for the exceptionally clumsy way they've edited the word "bastard[s?]" at 3:01. Strangely enough, "bitch" and "all the balls we need" are untouched, so to speak.

Also appearing on: Now 57, 58, 59, 60, 65, 76
Available on: Ta Dah

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Razorlight 'Before I Fall To Pieces'

Chart Peak: 17


'Before I Fall To Pieces' was the 3rd single release from Razorlight's self-titled album - it was co-written with front man Johnny Borrell and new-boy drummer Andy Burrows... Their eponymous album was one of the biggest selling in the UK in 2006, it ended the year at No. 6 in the Top Ten of the year's biggest selling albums.
Informative as that note is, it doesn't seem dripping with enthusiasm somehow. It feels a long time ago now that Johnny Borrell was so famous we had to get used to the sight of him in skintight jeans and no shirt. Bit of  a shock to the system seeing that again in the video, even if it's intercut with Guy Pearce dressed as obscure cable-TV superhero The Flash. Anyway, back in 2006-7 Borrell and "chums" had become one of the few acts of that era to follow a successful debut album with an even more successful second, despite the lazy title and poor production (from Chris Thomas, who really should know better). This live favourite doesn't convey all the excitement the band were reputed for at the time, and although it's probably quite catchy (hard to tell considering how much it got played at the time) it tends, like so much of their work, to turn into a vehicle for Borrell's rockstar posturing and Geldof-like vocal. It's still got enough energy to save it from the worst excesses of his ego, but it's not a record I've ever been able to like.

Echoing the Snow Patrol story in yesterday's post, a further two singles were extracted from the album and get plenty of publicity without making the Top 40, but it couldn't go on forever. A third album was a significant flop and this line-up fell apart. Borrell has since hired a new set of Razorlights but little has been heard from them since.

Also appearing on: Now 58, 61, 64, 65, 71
Available on: Top Gear 'Full Throttle' [Explicit]

Monday, 21 May 2012

Snow Patrol 'Open Your Eyes'

Chart Peak: 26

Snow Patrol's album Eyes Open has gone 5 times platinum since its release isn May 2006. 'Open Your Eyes' is the 4th single to come from the album... The band are looking forward to playing a plethora of big festivals over the summer, including headline spots at T In The Park, Oxygen and V Festival.
It's not often that I can claim any kind of bragging rights, but I would like it to be put on the record that I was buying Snow Patrol records in the 20th century. I even saw them live (introduced by Ricky Gervais of all people) back when they only had one album's worth of material to play. And then suddenly, after about five years of my thinking them one of the most underrated bands in the country, they suddenly got big. And yet for me they were still a bit underappreciated, having apparently passed from obscure cult act to mainstream fixture it wasn't cool to like without passing "Go" (though doubtless they did collect £200). You might expect me to disown the later major-label stuff, but no, I bought Eyes Open the week it came out and though it was never more than my fourth favourite of their albums it has some great moments, including possibly my favourite track of their entire career, 'Set The Fire To The Third Bar'.

Having got the special edition album with the bonus DVD (not really worth the extra money, in truth) I can cite Gary Lightbody's sleevenote as proof of their intent to make this present track "an ever-building, rolling landscape", featuring more than forty performers between the choir, the string orchestra and the original band members. The idea was apparently to build up tension on a single chord for four minutes and then resolve it in the final two... the only trouble is, it doesn't work. Lightbody has a very pretty voice and the early part of the song is nice enough to listen to: in fact it's far too nice and the tension just doesn't build so there's nothing to release at the end. Over this length of time, it sounds as bland to me as all their music does to some people. I wasn't enthused about this as a single at the time and I haven't really changed my mind.

What's possibly most interesting about this inclusion is what it shows us about the direction Now! albums had to look in the download era. The single had peaked in February so it's unlikely that this it was expected to become a bigger chart hit: it seems to be here because, despite my reservations, it was a big airplay hit from a massive album and clearly was genuinely popular.

Also appearing on: Now 57, 64, 65, 67, 71, 74
Available on: Eyes Open

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Ordinary Boys 'I Luv U'

Chart Peak: 7

'I Luv U' is officially the Ordinary Boys' first ballad - according to the boys it's about "trying to tell someone you love them without trying to sound like every other cliché"... It is the 4th Top 10 hit from the album How To Get Everything You Wanted In Ten Easy Steps, following 'Boys Will be Boys', 'Nine2Five' and 'Lonely At The Top'.
I presume they actually mean they were trying not to sound like clichés, rather than merely not trying to. And while I'm being pedantic, it does seem stretching a point somewhat to claim this as the fourth Top 10 single from the album when the first two didn't originate as part of it - 'Boys Will Be Boys' was the first single from their previous album which was repeated on the new one to milk its belated success and even 'Nine2Five' was originally a Lady Sovereign B-side. There's no dispute that this was a substantial hit in early January, though, and in the latter days of the physical single being in the chart in time for Valentine's Day helped to prolong its run. It was also to be the band's last hit, although surprisingly they didn't officially split until 2008.

Of course the reason for all this sudden interest in the band was that lead singer (Samuel) Preston had appeared on Celebrity Big Brother early the previous year and his media profile had briefly pulled the struggling mod-revivalist band into the mainstream. By the time the sarcastically-titled How To Get Everything... album hit the shelves, he was married to fellow contestant Chantelle and this is presumably why it was thought acceptable for the otherwise laddish band to release a soppy love song as a single. It might have been the final straw for some of their original fans if they hadn't stopped anyway. As a song it tried to tiptoe around the idea of a romantic ballad but unfortunately just saying you don't want to be clichéed is itself something of a cliché and the delivery isn't really charming enough to make it work, although there are some mildly interesting things going on in the production.

Either way it didn't last, and both the band and marriage were over within a year of this. Preston briefly attempted a solo career to so little success that he had to "reform the band" (ie get a bunch of session musicians and go on tour under the name) last year. He does crop up on Now 80 as a songwriter though.

Also appearing on: Now 63, 64
Available on: How To Get Everything You Ever Wanted In Ten Easy Steps

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Fratellis 'Whistle For The Choir'

Chart Peak: 9

Radio 1 listeners voted the Glaswegian trio Best British Breakthrough Act at this year's Brit Awards - in their acceptance speech Jon graciously thanked "the people at the beginning, the Fratelli fans"... 'Whistle For The Choir' gave the Fratellis their 2nd Top Ten hit in December 2006.
No, I don't know where the song title comes from either, though it's an improvement over the alleged original title 'Knickers In A Handbag' (neither phrase appears in the lyric, of course). Either way, the song is something of a change from the irritating lad-rock of their previous hits (and most of the subsequent ones). Lead singer Jon Fratelli (not his real name) even drops the fake Yorkshire accent that gives the strong impression they were groomed to be the Arctic Monkeys for idiots. In fact this was such a refreshing change I even contemplated buying the 8" coloured vinyl format of the single, though I couldn't quite bring myself to in the end. Even if I'd liked them to start with I'd have been put off by the unimaginable amount of play all their singles seemed to get in the 2006-7 era.

Listening back now, the song is pretty slight but what impresses most is the production: it's by Tony Hoffer, whose work I don't generally like, but his touch is impressively light here, with the acoustic guitars especially well-captured and plenty of space to capture the slightly bleary-eyed but sweet early-hours atmosphere the song demands. The old-fashioned high-pitched guitar solo is a nice touch too and it was the right single to release at Christmas time. But I wasn't that disappointed that they never had a substantial hit again.

Also appearing on: Now 65
Available on: Costello Music

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Robbie Williams with Pet Shop Boys 'She's Madonna'

Chart Peak: 16

Robbie teams up with the Pet Shop Boys on the pulsing new single 'She's Madonna', described as "a dynamic piece of synth-pop"... The video shows Robbie as we have never seen him before and features a plethora of LA's most famous (and infamous) drag queens.
Madonna herself has famously never appeared on a Now album, but she's also exceptional in pop music culture for the sheer number of hits by other people which refer to her or spin off somehow from her fame - anything from the self-aggrandising ('If Madonna Calls' by Junior Vasquez), through the brilliantly odd ('The Wheels On The Bus' by Mad Donna) to the unspeakably dreadful ('Do It With Madonna' by the Androids). Inevitably, some of this has slipped into the Now discography, but rarely has it been more obvious than with Robbie's hit supposedly based on Guy Ritchie's parting words to the girlfriend he left for Ms Ciccone. It's a pretty thin idea for a song, in all honesty, and the lyrics fail to live up to even this limited promise; the Pet Shop Boys production and backing vocals are so perfunctory it's hard not to suspect that they were in it for the postmodern appeal of collaborating with Williams. He presumably is a fan of theirs anyway, but they fit this song in particular because of its obvious flirtation with gay or at least sexually ambiguous imagery, especially in the video.

This was the third single from the infamous Rudebox album, and it's a sign of where his career was at the time that he could get away with releasing an album full of half-baked in-jokes and odd cover versions. It didn't last though, and whilst the Number 16 peak of this single would be considered a success for most people, it was at the time his second-lowest-charting solo single and one of only three to have fallen short of the Top 10. The album itself, despite would would again be considered massive initial sales for almost any other act, was a major flop by his standards which apparently led to heads rolling at EMI. It was outsold by Take That's comeback release (see disc 1) and although it did slightly better internationally, it did lead to a couple of years' silence from Williams. His career still doesn't seem to be back in gear.

Also appearing on: Now 34, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, 51 (with Nicole Kidman), 52 (with 1 Giant Leap & Maxi Jazz), 54, 55, 56, 59, 60, 62, 63, 65, 74
Available on: Rudebox [+video]

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

U2 'Window In The Skies'

Chart Peak: 4

'Window In The Skies' is the second single release from the band's 2006 best-of compilation U218 Singles and is one of two new tracks on the album - the other being a cover of the Skids' 'The Saints Are Coming', which was a collaboration with U.S. punk band Green Day.
Although I'm open to correction on this point, I believe that mention in the sleeve note is the closest Gree Day have ever come to appearing on a Now album. That's not a fact that bothers me greatly but if you're a fan, don't hold your breath waiting for me to post about them on here. I do remember there was some controversy about that single at the time, because it was a charity release but some felt that it took the shine off the gesture to use it as bait for an otherwise pointless hits compilation drawing on the one album U2 had released since their previous retrospective.

Anyway, long-term readers might have guessed by now which way this post will go from the fact that I've spent the first paragraph talking about a song that isn't on the album, and indeed a band who aren't on there. If so you'd be right, because this is an even worse U2 impression than the Killers, the real nadir of the self-pastiche that has been their stock in trade for most of this century. Bono mumbles some idealistic lyrics about a just world or something and the band jangle away at the hundredth re-write of 'Where The Streets Have No Name' and everyone else dozes off. This inevitably got a lot of radio play at the time and when it was released on New Year's Day(!) 2007 it unsurprisingly reached the Top 10 (it's more surprising that it was their last Top 10 single to date) but its descent was swift even by U2 standards and the song was almost instantly forgotten. I'm sure I didn't hear it once between about February 2007 and the day I bought this CD, and I haven't played it much since either.

Also appearing on: Now 4, 5, 20, 22, 32, 37, 41, 47, 48, 49, 53, 57 [LMC vs U2], 60, 61, 62, 63, 72
Available on: U218 Singles [2 Disk]

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Killers 'Read My Mind'

Chart Peak: 15

Winner of Best International Group and Best International Album at this year's Brits, The Killers have earned massive critical acclaim for their album Sam's Town... 'Read My Mind' is the third sigle from the album and brought them further chart success on its release in March 2007.
There's nothing quite as funny or predictable as seeing a comment saying "they should listen to this band... the electro music nowadays spoiled the music industry." on a YouTube video of a song that starts with a 15-second synth chord, is there? 

Though they lack(ed?) the tricksiness of Fall Out Boy, the Killers have always been one of those bands I find it all but impossible to like, even when I know they're good. There's just something about the way their records sound that repels me just slightly: not to the extent that I actively avoid them (at least not until they've been massively overplayed) but just enough to stop me really enjoying the experience. Actually seeing them doesn't improve matters either, because they always come over as just that little bit too self-consciously presented for maximum marketability; the fact that they grew beards when they released the more serious second album is a case in point.

When I'm honest with myself, 'Read My Mind' is one of their better songs. It's not hugely original but it gets points for the relative subtlety of the chorus and its tidy structure. It's quite satisfyingly produced too, although for me the final mix is a little too glossy. The main problem comes in the form of frontman Brandon Flowers. He presumably wrote the lyrics which form the weakest part of the composition, lapsing too often into clicheed and seemingly unconnected imagery: and unfortunately when his voice cracks on the high notes ("before you jump, tell me what you find") it just makes me think of that spotty teenager character in the Simpsons who's usually working in the Krusty Burger or something. That's a big problem in a song that otherwise seems so keen to be taken seriously, especially when Flowers yodels his little Bono impression at the end.

Also appearing on: Now 60, 61, 65, 68, 72
Available on: Sam's Town

Monday, 14 May 2012

Fall Out Boy 'This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race'

Chart Peak: 2

'This Ain't A Scene' reached No. 2 in the UK charts in February 2007... It is the first single from the Chicago band's long-awaited album Infinity On High, the follow-up to From Under The Cork Tree which sold over 3 million copies worldwide.. The band are looking forward to a sell-out UK tour in April and main stage performances at Reading and Leeds festivals in the summer.
I don't care what it says on the cover, they're blatantly singing "arseface" on the chorus. It doesn't even sound like "arms race," there's no "m" sound in it. And while we're on the subject of swearing, it's worth noting that this album includes the original uncensored version of the track with the word "goddamn" in it, rather than the clean version more often heard in the US and used in the video.

Whilst I recognise that there are obviously several levels of irony involved in this record, fundamentally they were a band whom I found deeply annoying during their brief period of UK fame. They didn't seem able to do anything without burying it under in-jokes and gimmicks and whilst I can put up with a certain amount of that sort of thing when the music's appealing, they were rarely more than average and this track is a case in point, mildly catchy but torpedoed by its own smugness.

Also appearing on: Now 63, 64, 67
Available on: Infinity On High [UK Version]

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Klaxons 'Golden Skans'

Chart Peak: 7

Klaxons scored a No. 7 hit with their anthemic single 'Golden Skans' before their poundingly catchy album Myths Of The Near Future got to No. 4 on its release at the end of Jan '07... They are described as the pioneers of New Rave and glowsticks were out in full force when they headlined the NME Indie Rave Tour in Feb 2007.
Sorry this post is a bit late. I got slightly out of the rhythm of writing when I stayed up till 1am watching a documentary about Yes Minister on YouTube. And sadly, I'm not even joking. I'm also sorry I don't have a photo of the single here, because I do slightly regret not buying the 7" version with a live version of 'The Bouncer' on the flipside. Still, I did get the album in Woolworth's for £4 not long after it came out so I didn't miss out on the song itself at least.

I remember some discussion at the time as to whether New Rave (or Nu-Rave, as it was sometimes spelt) actually existed or was just something the bass player made up for a joke, punning on previous NME enre names like New Wave, New Wave Of New Wave and of course New Grave. It's certainly true that Klaxons made their name combining alternative rock sounds with elements of early-90s rave culture, hence 'The Bouncer'; however 'Golden Skans' is one of their most conventionally indie-sounding songs, reminiscent of a more awake version of Doves. Naturally I assumed that the title must be some sort of drug reference, but apparently it's actually a type of disco lighting, which still makes sense in the context of the lyric, which is evidently about the sense of euphoria and possibility some people feel when they go clubbing. Whilst that's not a sentiment I can personally identify with, I like to think I can recognise a good pop song when I hear one, and I've heard one here.

Also appearing on: Now 67
Available on: Myths Of The Near Future

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Sophie Ellis-Bextor 'Catch You'

Chart Peak: 8

Sophie is back after a 3-year break, during which time she had a baby boy, Sonny, with husband Richard (bassist in The Feeling)... She also wrote over 70 songs, whittled down enough to fill her new album Tripping The Light Fantastic with tracks which Sophie says are "an invitation to dance". 
She may indeed have written over 70 songs, but this isn't one of them, being penned by old hand Cathy Dennis and the producer Greg Kurstin. It seems to encapsulate a lot of what's disappointing about Ellis-Bextor's solo work, the sense that she's playing too much at being a pop star. Not that there's anything wrong with actually being a pop star but there's a tendency to sound like she feels it beneath her, as if it's expedient rather than whole-hearted. And in fairness to her, there are some lyrics it'd be hard not to sing with derision, all that stuff about hiding in coffee spoons and so forth.

Musically it works a little better than lyrically, with a catchy little intro but it never really goes anywhere. Like most of her career, it seems a wasted opportunity.

Also appearing on: Now 50, 51, 52, 53, 56, 57
Available on: Trip The Light Fantastic

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Gossip 'Standing In The Way Of Control'

Chart Peak: 7 [64 in 2006]

Young, hip and full of attitude, US punk band Gossip blasted onto the UK music scene in early 2007 with their debut hit 'Standing In The Way Of Control'... The band thrive on delivering a fantastic live show and look set to impress at this year's summer festivals.
It's difficult now to think back to a time before Beth Ditto was a ubiquitous and often irritating media presence, the days when Gossip (the definite article was dropped in 2003, apparently) were actually more famous for their music than their lead singer. But I do actually recall hearing this song the first time it came out and quite liking it, a strong post-punk record with what I think of as a powerful bassline (though it may actually be a low-register guitar part - the band have no bassist). It's the sort of minimal arrangement that demands a lot from the players, and for four minutes they pull it off. I didn't quite work up the enthusiasm to buy it, but in the new year it began to take on a new lease of life, apparently thanks to use in a TV trailer.

Unfortunately this was soon followed by my getting tired of it, and of Ditto herself, so I still didn't buy the record, but I have to admit that she does put in a pretty powerful vocal performance though she might be disappointed that I didn't know what she was actually singing about until I looked it up (gay marriage, apparently). As time passed and the band drifted from the spotlight again I warmed more to the song and ended up being quite glad to find it on the Now album here. Of course, the band are still very much in existence, and have a new single out this very week, but have never really matched this level.

Available on: Standing In The Way Of Control

Monday, 7 May 2012

The View 'Same Jeans'

Chart Peak: 3

Dundonian band The View are Kyle, Kieran, Peter and Steve. They formed from the ashes of a covers band from their school days (which aren't that long ago - their average age is just eighteen!)... They scored a Top 3 hit in January 2007 with the mighty smash 'Same Jeans'.
Indeed they went to top off that singles achievement (after two hits peaking at 15) with a Number One album in the form of Hats Off To The Buskers, a title which is almost a lyric from this very song. And then suddenly it was all over, with this proving to be their last Top 30 single and their two subsequent albums selling only to the faithful. Perhaps this is proof that fashion is what goes out of fashion.

Despite the above, time has been surprisingly kind to 'Same Jeans'. It's no masterpiece and edges towards the sort of self-mythologising rock I generally find tiresome; it's unsurprising that they worked with producer Owen Morris, best known for helming the first three Oasis albums. And there's no getting away from the fact that it sounds quite a lot like 'Brimful Of Asha' but isn't as good. I've never liked anything else they did and the band don't strike me as personally appealing either. But with hindsight, and out of the context of hearing hundreds of songs that sound like this all the time, 'Same Jeans' is just about sprightly enough to make up for its clichés. If only they'd started the disc with this instead of the Fray.

Available on: Hats Off To The Buskers [Explicit]

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Fray 'How To Save A Life'

Chart Peak: 4
Denver 4-piece The Fray are one of the biggest bands of the moment in the U.S. and are fast becoming huge in the U.K. too thanks to their debut single 'How To Save A Life' - a soaring, heavyweight, guitar-driven pop gem... The band toured with The Feeling  in February/March 2007 and are set to headline a massive show in London at the end of March.
"Heavyweight"? "Guitar-driven"? Have they even listened to the record? I'm not saying I could blame them if they hadn't, mind you, but it's not exactly 'Ace Of Spades' is it? Little did I realise when I started writing about this album that when I started this particular post, the song in question would actually be back in the Top 40: luckily, in the time I've been putting off finishing it, it's slipped back and now sits at 51. Possibly for this reason, I post a wasn't exactly looking forward to in the first place has turned into even more of a chore. In fact repeated hearings have soured me on this song so much I even clicked the "dislike" button on YouTube, and I never do that.

I'm prepared, on my most generous days, to accept that this song might be meaningful to some people. To me, though, it's the worst kind of self-consciously earnest North American rock, as made by people who have heard R.E.M. but don't get them, and it's obvious that this particular song owes a good deal of its success to being tailor-made for hospital-based TV drama. I also find Isaac Slade's voice frankly grating. And that's even before I read this depressing sentence on Wikipedia:
"During Season 8 of American Idol 2009, "How To Save A Life" was played when finalist Danny Gokey exited the auditioning room and celebrated the passing of his first audition with his family and friends, in reference to Gokey's wife passing away of complications from congenital heart disease."
That just seems terribly wrong somehow.

Also appearing on: Now 67
Available on: How To Save A Life

Friday, 4 May 2012

Leona Lewis 'A Moment Like This'

Chart Peak: 1 (4 weeks)
22 year old X-Factor winner Leona Lewis broke all records when her single 'A Moment Like This' was released in December 2006 - It was downloaded 50 thousand times within 30 minutes of being made available online... She has been described as the "Lovechild of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey" due to her amazing soul-diva vocal range!!!
No, I don't remember when we decided that "soul diva" was a concept defined by vocal range either. But there's no denying that Leona Lewis does have one, and was an unsurprising winner of a contest judged by people who consider a lovechild of Whitney and Mariah was an appealing prospect (it was of course also a highly unlikely one). It's easy to forget now that Lewis was only the second X-Factor winner to score a Christmas Number One (and one of only five to do so to date, though all eight of them have topped the chart at some point), and as it turned out this single sold less than Shayne Ward's hit the previous year - its massive out of the gate sales first thing on Sunday morning owe more to the growth in the download market generally than any increased popularity.

Ultimately, that doesn't matter much because this isn't the song she's remembered for anyway - in fact it was already shop-worn, having been recorded by Kelly Clarkson when she won American Idol a couple of years earlier. That version was never a single in Britain, but Simon Cowell could hardly have failed to spot that it was almost tailor-made for a contest winner, with all its talk of "journeys", as shown by the old audition footage in the video too, of course. It's a narrative that doesn't totally fit with Lewis, who was clearly always going to have a career one way or another, but the bigger problem is that it's just a dull song. Perhaps surprisingly, it was co-written by John Reid of Nightcrawlers fame, but it's probably too late to do a "not fit for purpose" joke now. Either way, the track was always destined to sell well in the short term, but even though she's one of the few long-running stars to emerge from the show, and her album Spirit is by far the biggest seller connected with X-Factor, this was never likely to be more than an apologetic bonus track at the end.

Also appearing on: Now 68, 70, 72, 80 (with Avicii)
Available on: Spirit

Thursday, 3 May 2012

JoJo 'Too Little, Too Late'

Chart Peak: 4

It's over two years since US teen sensation JoJo first hit the charts with the No. 2 hit 'Leave (Get Out)' and a multi-platinum selling album... Now, at the ripe old age of 15, JoJo is back with the heart-felt ballad 'Too Little Too Late', a track which is "A timeless message about getting over your first love".
Bearing in mind that she was only 15, I did find what I saw of that video a bit creepy, TBH, but I guess they were trying to sell this to teenage girls and they knew what they were doing. Apparently Disney-affiliated radio stations insisted on removing the lyric "stay the night" from the first verse, and I think they had a point for once.

If you don't Camille Jones vs Fedde Le Grand a few tracks ago, this is the first wholly original composition on the album since Calvin Harris. That's "original" in the sense that it's not covered or sampled, it's not the most imaginative or unprecedented composition I've ever encountered, as you might have predicted seeing the cavalcade of standard-issue songwriters involved in composing it. Indeed, there's a bit of a mismatch between the rather 80 AOR nature of the song itself and the early-2000s RnB production laid over it. The fact that this ended up as a JoJo record only adds to the confusion - as noted above, the lyric doesn't really suit somebody so young and her eager-to-please stage-school vocal performance doesn't really fit either style especially well. With a disparate set of ill-fitting elements, none of which is anything special in its own right, it's no wonder that this song seems to fade so abruptly after the obligatory long high note. It's as if that's the last box to be ticked before everyone can clock off and go down the pub.

In fairness, this was a significant hit at the time, but it was to be her last. A third album seems to have been caught up in red tape for a long time but is finally due to emerge in the US next month.

Also appearing on: Now 59, 60
Available on: The High Road

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Gwen Stefani 'Wind It Up'

Chart Peak: 3
The sassy lady from Orange County took her original version of 'Wind It Up' and mashed it together with a sample from the Sound Of Music to score a No. 3 hit in December 2006... It was the first release from Gwen's album The Sweet Escape, which is dedicated to her "best project", her son Kingston.
Having successfully established herself as a solo artist with her first album, Stefani might have been expected to go back to No Doubt. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what the rest of the band expected, but in the event she made a second album, apparently because she wanted to use up some of the unreleased tracks from the first one. You might not expect a masterpiece from that rather desultory premise, but even then few would have guessed that how clumsy the lead single was going to be. Even the original track - recorded for a fashion show, hence the references to her own clothing line - can't have been up to much, with its half-baked rapping and the odd way she gulps the title (if the song wasn't called that, I don't think I'd ever have guessed what she was saying). So what better way to top it off than by sampling, er 'The Lonely Goatheard' for no apparent reason. The finished item is so bizarre that the first time I heard it on the radio, I couldn't tell whether it was a joke or not. Possibly it was, but if so it seems to have been at the record-buying public's expense. It's a testament to star power that something as weirdly dreadful of this reached the UK and US Top 10.

Also appearing on: Now 50 [with Eve], 60, 61 [with Eve], 62, 67
Available on: The Sweet Escape

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Jamelia 'Beware Of The Dog'

Chart Peak: 10
Jamelia mashed up a sample of Depeche Mode's 'Personal Jesus' until it was almost unrecognisable in 70s style dance stomper 'Beware Of The Dog'... The "hard-edged" track gave her her 6th consecutive UK Top 10 single on its release in December 2006.
I don't find it that easy to imagine that many people who've heard the original Depeche Mode track would find it that hard to recognise the riff in here, even though it has been played about with slightly: the effect is a actually slightly more akin to Marilyn Manson's cover version of the songs, which may have been where the idea came from. Whoever thought of it, though, was onto a winner, smartly spotting the best thing about the original but removing Martin L. Gore's pompous lyric and Manson's awful joke. It's replaced by a suitably forceful warning about a bad boyfriend, which could be perceived as a sequel to her highest-charting single 'Thank You', if a lighter-hearted one. Indeed the two-track CD single of this even used 'Thank You' as the B-side, so I can't have been the only one who had that thought. The only real flaw in the songwriting is the knowing use of the phrase "reach out and touch me" in the middle-eight; an obvious allusion to the similar phrase in 'Personal Jesus' but at odds with the sense and mood of this song.

Jamelia doesn't always get the best press, and is often dismissed as a one-hit wonder, but among the couple of dozen singles she's released there are a handful of real gems, and this is one of them. Whilst not especially showy, her performance here strikes the right tone: hard-edged and forceful but with a sense that she's enjoying herself. Maybe she already suspects not all her audience will take the advice. Irrespective of my wild speculation, this was a deserved seventh Top 10 for her, though also her last: it was possibly a strategic error to follow up with another song based on an 80s sample, but whatever the reason the aptly-named 'No More' fell short of the entire Top 40 and effectively ended her relationship with EMI. Though she reportedly signed a new deal as long ago as 2010, little has been heard of her since.

Also appearing on: Now 45, 46, 56, 57, 58, 59, 65
Available on: Walk With Me