Friday, 27 December 2013

Platnum 'Love Shy (Thinking About You)'

Chart Peak: 12

In the wake of their massive No. 2 hit 'What's It Gonna Be' (with H "Two" O) Manchester trio Platnum scored a hit of their own with 'Loveshy (Thinking About You)'... The club smash reached No. 12 in the UK chart in October 2008

The last track here comes from leading lights of the so-called "bassline" scene, which according to Wikipedia was popular partly because of its appeal to both male and female audiences, though it seems that the video for this track is aimed more at the one than the other. The song is of course a cover of a turn-of-the-century hit for Kristine Blond, apparently because there had been a popular remix of the original in this style.

To the uninitiated, bassline sounds very like the UK garage sound of the early 2000s, so it's easy to imagine this being a hit several years earlier - or even several years later as All About She had a hit in similar style in December 2013 - though I'm sure that real fans will notice the differences. Either way, it's not a single that seems to have huge crossover appeal, feeling more like a song for the clubbers than a real pop smash, though it's perfectly listenable. Platnum haven't really been heard much of since, which seems to fit with a lot of this album.

Also appearing on: Now 69 [with H "Two" O]
Available on: The No.1 Bass Album

Monday, 23 December 2013

Taio Cruz 'She's Like A Star'

Chart Peak: 20
Rising UK soul star and heavily in-demand producer Taio Cruz scored a Top 20 hit with 'She's Like A Star' in August 2008... Mr Cruz is a popular man at the moment having recently spent time in the US working with Britney, Brandy and Justin Timberlake.
Plenty of scope for tenuous links here, since not only has Cruz worked with Travie McCoy, he also recorded a version of 'Umbrella' that was never released because the writers presumably wanted to hand it to a bigger star, no pun intended. He also has a significant tally of hit singles but little success on the albums market, with at least one his albums so boring they couldn't even be bothered to release the whole thing in the UK.

Possibly part of the problem is that Cruz seems too competent a musician, somebody who knows how to write and produce a hit but not how to add any character to it. This is a sort of sappy ballad that doesn't even quite have the courage to be that, with its resolutely medium tempo and repeated chipmunk-like vocal; Corrine Bailey Rae supposedly claimed that this was suspiciously similar to her own hit 'Like A Star' but he insisted this was coincidental. At one point it sounds a bit like he's singing "she makes me want to be a better man or wife" which is as close as this gets to anything interesting, though the song is really supposed to be about (imagined) parenthood.

Apparently Cruz has said he'll release a single from his next album "before 2014" so he's got about a week left.

Also appearing on: Now 69 [with Luciana], 70, 72 (with Tinchy Stryder), 74, 76 [with Ke$ha], 77, 78 [with Travie McCoy], 81, 82
Available on:

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Gym Class Heroes featuring The-Dream 'Cookie Jar'

Chart Peak: 6

Gym Class Heroes' third UK smash 'Cookie Jar', hit the Top Ten in September 2008... The track features vocals from Grammy-Award-nominated singer/songwriter The-Dream, who also co-wrote Rihanna's No.1 smash 'Umbrella'.
Not often you get the lyrics on an official YouTube upload, I suppose that saves you the trouble of watching it. I took one for the team though and sat through all three and a half minutes. There are few more puzzling phenomena of the twenty-first century than the fact that Gym Class Heroes (or as I just typed, Gym Class Herpes, I'm honestly not making that up) have had as many as four Top Ten singles in the UK. Since their albums tend to sell approximately diddly-squat here, it seems unlikely that they have any fans, and this particular song was not a big hit elsewhere in the world but somehow my compatriots in the UK sent this close to the Top 5; it didn't even go Top 50 in the US.

Supposedly written while frontman Travis McCoy was dating Katy Perry, 'Cookie Jar' is a gruesome boast about his inability to resist the temptation of other women while he was in a relationship. Using "cookies" as a metaphor for human beings gives it a rather grubby, objectifying air and the fact that The-Dream and his odd hyphen keep singing "I like girls" in the chorus means it's not even subtle. Seriously, guys, either be metaphorical or don't. And while you're at it, try and think of a band name that's not so reminiscent of of dirty socks.

Also appearing on: Now 67, 80 [with Adam Levine]
Available on: The Quilt [Explicit] [+digital booklet]

Friday, 20 December 2013

Little Jackie 'The World Should Revolve Around Me'

Chart Peak: 14
YouTube [uncensored version]
Little Jackie is not actually one person, but the combination of "genre-defying" singer-songwriter Imani Coppola and multi-instrumentalist Adam Palin.. their besnd of old-school R'n'B/quirky hip-hop/pop, scored a No. 14 hit in September 2008 with 'The World Should Revolve Around Me'.
Coppola is one of those people who seem to re-emerge every couple of years and be tipped for big things, but she's never been higher than 14 on the singles chart, a peak shared by this and her guest vocal on 'You All Dat' by the Baha Men. Apparently she once fell out with a record company over her refusal to use samples, although the co-writing credit for Willie Mitchell suggests to me that there's one on here (I haven't managed to track down exactly what though). The song itself, apparently written after a break-up, is supposed to be full of attitude but there's something a bit too self-consciously cool about it, which also clashes with the attempts to be off-the wall and surreal. You can imagine it being a big hit if somebody like Girls Aloud or the Saturdays had recorded it (presumably minus the swearing) and in some ways I can even imagine it being better that way.

Available on: The World Should Revolve Around Me (Digital) [Explicit]

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Ida Maria 'I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked'

Chart Peak: 13

'I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked' became Ida Maria's first UK hit single back in August 2008... The twenty four year old Norwegian rock chick played a host of festivals over the summer and embarked on her own seventeen date UK tour in November.
It's sort of a pity they didn't sequence this song right next to Alphabeat, that would have been an interesting compare and contrast. Two songs from Nordic acts, both with songs (in English) about young love and infatuation. Perhaps we could imagine - or even hope - that this song's protagonist is a little older, smoking to try and look cool and more sexually obsessed with somebody she claims not even to like very much the rest of the time. Mind you it's not totally clear whether she actually has got that close to this guy or whether she just has an unrequited passion for him. It's both exhilarating and slightly disturbing, but part of the reason it works is that she actually does manage to sound just the right side of unhinged.

The song is said to borrow from the Banana Splits theme tuneIf it's good enough for Bob Marley, why not? It's a classic one-hit-wonder that I have to thank my wife for encouraging me to listen to. Until yesterday I hadn't heard any other Ida Maria songs, and I almost didn't want to in case it spoilt this one somehow. Apparently she's released two more albums since.

Available on:Fortress Round My Heart

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Biffy Clyro 'Mountains'

Chart Peak: 5
Biffy Clyro are Simon Neil and twins Ben and James Johnston, childhood friends from Ayr in Scotland who formed the band in 1995... Their powerful, anthemic single 'Mountains' is their most successful UK hit to date - it stormed to No. 5 in the UK chart in late August 2008.
A classic case of a band working their way up, Biffy took until 2002 to even release an album, and scored a series of minor Top 40 hits (on the sort of sales that would barely scrape Top 200 these days) but didn't really hit paydirt until their fourth album (and major-label debut) Puzzle. This was their first new material after that and proved to be the first of six hit singles from Only Revolutions. Inevitably they were facing accusations of selling out, but to me they were just doing what they'd always done only slightly better. Not quite as well as the Foo Fighters did it, admittedly.

'Mountains' finds them in fairly typical driving rock territory, with the serious piano intro followed by chunkier guitars in the second verse and big loud chorus, but to me that's pretty much what they always did, they just used to give the songs stupider titles. I did eventually buy the album, though not for full price, but this wasn't my favourite track on it.

Also appearing on: Now 75, 84
Available on: It's A Misery Business [Anti Love Songs] (Digital) [Explicit]

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Alphabeat 'Boyfriend'

Chart Peak: 15

Alphabeat describe their latest hit 'Boyfriend' as "an anthem for slightly obsessive mentalists around the world"... It is their third successive Top 20 chart hit single and got to No. 15 in August 2008.
Who now remembers that Alphabeat had as many as four Top 20 singles? After this third one they parted company with their record label but a second album came out on another major label but their third album seems not even to have made it out of Denmark. People seem to have tired of them quickly and I'm not sure I blame them because there was a certain forced jollity I found a bit annoying. Something a bit too self-consciously inane, I always thought. 'Boyfriend' is not a bad song in any way but I can't warm to it.

Also appearing on: Now 69, 70
Available on: Boyfriend [+video]

Monday, 16 December 2013

McFly 'Lies'

Chart Peak: 4
YouTube (song starts at approx 1:29)
The McFly boys' latest offering, 'Lies', reached No. 4 on its release in September 2008, making that their 15th Top Ten single since they formed in 2004... They will be on a massive UK arena tour throughout the whole of November.
This was a slightly confusing point in their career, when they'd already reached the typical boy band lifespan and released a Greatest Hits album. Having parted from their major-label contract at this point they should have been on the fast track to obscurity, and giving away the original version of their fourth album as a newspaper covermount hardly seemed a show of strength.

However, they were smart or cynical enough to hold back a couple of tracks from the freebie album for the later commercial release, one of which was to be released as a single. As it turns out, 'Lies' was not only a hit but one of the best things they've ever recorded, a brilliantly arranged Britpop stomp with some tasty piano playing by local lad Tom Fletcher and a real-sounding brass section. The lyric is perhaps a little on the vicious side with its apparent (if not entirely believable) threats of violence to an ex, but that's the only flaw to what was otherwise one of the best singles of 2008. And you can quote me on that.

Also appearing on: Now 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 77, 78 (with Taio Cruz), 84
Available on: Radio:Active

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Keane 'Spiralling'

Chart Peak: 23
Keane recently returned to the UK music scene after a short hiatus and have described their new album Perfect Symmetry as "a technicolour explosion of stellar pop"... 'Spiralling', the first single release, was voted Best Track of the Year at the Q Awards recently - it was their 8th UK Top 30 hit back in September.
Very modest of them to call their own album stellar, wasn't it? As it turned out this was also their last Top 30 hit to date - in fact the only time they've appeared in the Top 39 singles since then was the recent revival of 'Somewhere Only We Know'. The (relative) success of this single is all the more impressive given that it was available to fans as a free download for a week but evidently enough people either didn't know or only got into the song too late. I guess that might have contributed to the song's meandering chart run, too.

As a track, 'Spiralling' sounds very like a band trying to sound unlike Keane, with its synth-pop production and aggressive mood. To some extent they'd already tried this trick by making 'Is It Any Wonder' the first single from their second album, but this seems to offer a somewhat bleaker vision of human nature, and indeed almost emulates Flobots with the ending monologue "Did you want to start a war". At the top of the track they're all shouting "HEY" in way that seems determinedly unlike the piano-led ballads that made them famous. It's a bit overdone, and Tom Chaplin is a bit out of his depth vocally, but to be fair it's a decent song underneath, and one of their most deserved hits.

Also appearing on: Now 57, 58, 59, 60, 64, 65
Available on: The Best Of Keane

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Flobots 'Handlebars'

Chart Peak: 14

Flobots are "a rip-roaring six-member musical force" from Denver, Colorado, originally formed in 2005 by founding band members Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit... Their debut single 'Handlebars' reached No. 14 in the UK charts in September 2008
Apparently the members of Flobots had some quite high-minded intent behind the writing of this song - what sounds like a song boasting about cycling prowess is somehow supposed to be about ambitions and militarism. To be fair, you can kind of hear that when you're looking for it, as the increasingly shouty vocals at the end seem to proclaim power over life and death itself. But the idea is a bit too hazy to carry the song and musically there just isn't enough going on, just a vague acoustic jangle and some quite slow rapping. It would have worked better if they'd sped up the pace during the song. Apparently there have been two more Flobots albums since this but few seem to have noticed on these shores (the last one made it 198 on the US chart). A song that has some of the features of songs I like, but not the good ones.

Available on: Handlebars (single)

Friday, 13 December 2013

Duffy 'Stepping Stone'

Chart Peak: 21
Twenty four year old Welsh songstress Duffy followed up her hugely successful hits 'Mercy' and 'Warwick Avenue' with the gorgeously haunting 'Stepping Stone' in September 2008... The following month, she scopped the award for "Best Breakthrough Artist" at the Q Awards.
Second track in a row that missed the Top 20, though at least this one was surely included knowingly because, easy as it is to forget now, Duffy was one of the biggest stars of the time and Rockferry was the top-selling album of 2008. Little did we know then how badly her comeback would misfire a couple of years later. Somewhere down the line 'Stepping Stone' seems to have got a bit forgotten which is a pity as it was one of her best singles, a charmingly underplayed song that leaves space for her voice - some of her other songs seemed to force her into yelping. Although she's playing the victim a bit here she's at least playing a victim who wishes she wasn't one and the record's steady pace suggests a protagonist struggling with her lot. If you pass a charity shop in the near future, there's a decent chance you'll encounter a copy of the album in there and this track is probably worth the price.

Also appearing on: Now 69, 70, 72
Available on: Rockferry (EU Version)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Christian Falk featuring Robyn 'Dream On'

Chart Peak: 29

'Dream On' is the stunning new single from Swedish artist and producer Christian Falk, it features sublime vocals from songstress and fellow Swede Robyn and looks set to set the charts alight on its release in November 2008

In fact, the single ended up being released in the very same week as this album itself, which may have hindered sales somewhat: in the even it barely made the Top 30 and spent only one more week in the Top 75. It's a remix of an original version released in Sweden in 2006, which also featured rock singer Ola Salo on harmony vocal; this version was issued to tie in with a re-release of Robyn's own album.

The version we have here is a fairly minimal-sounding electronic track, which I think I'd have called more iced than chilled. It's hard to parse lyrically - it combines a serious of hopeful sentiments with the chorus "Dream On" and I can't tell whether that's supposed to be sarcastic. I'm tempted to conclude from the musical mood that it is, which makes the song a bit difficult to like. I suppose it has a certain glacial prettiness about it but the original might actually have been better.

Robyn also appears on: Now 68 [with Kleerup], 69, 76
Available on: 20 Chilled Beats

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Guru Josh Project 'Infinity 2008'

Chart Peak: 3 [original version: 5 in 1990]
The Guru Josh Project was formed in early 2008 by three guys who who all have a love and passion for electronic music and old school 90s rave - they are Guru Josh himself, DJ and producer Darren Bailie and fellow producer Snakebyte... 'Infinity' was originally a Top 5 hit for Guru Josh back in 1990, this new version raced into the UK chart Top 3 in October 2008
I'm sure that's not meant to sound like Guru Josh just got a project together to celebrate how great he was, but it sort of does, especially since the Project disbanded after this one single. Though it didn't make a Now album, the original 'Infinity' was a big crossover hit in its day, even inspiring the following ad-lib rap by DJ Pat Sharp:
"Oh golly, oh gosh, it's Guru Josh
He isn't very posh
But he's making mucho dosh"
At least, I hope that was an ad-lib, the possibility that he might have written that in advance is almost as pathetic as the fact that I remembered it word-for-word after 23 years. In all honesty, the track seems a bit like a cheap version of 808 State's 'Pacific State', which has a similar saxophone hook. Its other distinctive feature was the lyric "1990s... time for the Guru", which proved a little on the optimistic side given his complete absence from the chart between 1991 and 1999. The Klaas Vocal Edit featured here removes that for obvious reasons but adds the similarly awful claim that "a freak like me, just needs infinity". Good job he's not being greedy or anything. Mind you, the release of this poor remix of a less than brilliant original suggests the self-proclaimed Guru hadn't made much dosh after all.

Available on: The Zest Workout Mix Vol. 1

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Verve 'Love Is Noise'

Chart Peak:
'Love Is Noise' is The Verve's first hit single in over a decade - their last was 'Lucky Man' back in December 1997 - they split up soon afterwards in early 1999... Their comeback single has been described as "a rampaging epic" - it reached No. 4 in the UK charts in August 2008
It's an odd coincidence that The Verve's comeback album Forth was released in the same year as Portishead's Third, both follow-ups to albums released on the same day in 1997 (and indeed the top two albums on the following Sunday's chart) with similar titles. Of course, Portishead hadn't actually split up in the 11-year gap, they were just slow, but the Verve had returned from their second acrimonious split (that we know of) at a time when Richard Ashcroft's solo career seemed to have lost momentum.

After a few live appearances and the release of lengthy studio jam 'The Thaw Session', 'Love Is Noise' was the first proper new material from the group in the 20th century, featuring the four original members again with 1997-8 member Simon Tong left out for reasons never made clear. I'm not sure whether it's supposed to be a play on the tensions within the band that the video never shows all four of them together, but I'm inclined to blame the director. In fact my advice is to ignore the video entirely and concentrate on the song itself, which I'd call a qualified success. Ashcroft's voice is rather raspy and hard to miss with its prominence in the mix and the lyrics veer into Razorlight-style pomp, self-consciously updating Blake's 'Jerusalem' with lines about "walk on soles made in China". The title phrase "love is noise" has a highfalutin I-am-making-a-definitive-statement air about it too, but at least you can make some sense of it; knowing that this post was coming up I've tried to do that the last few times I've heard the song. I can imagine one way to see it is that love is like noise of the electronic sort, a distortion that breaks up straight lines and makes things less perfect and clean but also adds character; whether that's what Ashcroft actually means is anyone's guess, but you wouldn't expect the singer from a psychedelic rock band to think noise and distortion were bad things, would you? Possibly this isn't as original an idea as he might think, and I find myself reaching for an analogy with Richard Thompson's ironic 'Love Is Bad For Business', but it's a good enough vehicle for the music, a taut four minutes - in the radio edit at least - with powerful rhythm playing and a slightly hypnotic effect. Personally, I like the two extremes of the Verve sound, space-rock and ballads, less than I enjoy the middle ground, and this makes for a good single, even if the backing vocals do sound a bit like Teletubbies.

Also appearing on: 37, 38, 39, 40
Available on: The Anthems

Monday, 9 December 2013

Snow Patrol 'Take Back The City'

Chart Peak: 6
'Take Back The City' was the first hit single to be released from the boy's {sic} new album A Hundred Million Suns... Their incredibly successful last album Eyes Open went 7 times platinum selling over 2.1 million copies in the UK and more than 1 million units in America
Although A Hundred Million Suns was Snow Patrol's fifth album, they were to all intents and purposes in a comparable position to the Kaiser Chiefs releasing their third album, although they'd actually sold slightly more of their previous album than the one before it. Like the Kaisers they made the Top 10 with the album's first single and couldn't manage Top 40 with any of the others (though the difference is that they've managed other hits since) which seems emblematic of the times. It also says something of 2008 that this is the one single from Now 71 that I actually bought, but as I bought it digitally I have nothing to photograph.

To some extent this track is a reshuffle of familiar Patrol motifs: the massed acoustic guitars, the high harmonies on the chorus, the tangled guitars, the quiet electronics and the off-mic outro (a direct crib from 'Spitting Games') but it's in the service of something a bit fresher, a love-letter to Gary Lightbody's hometown of Belfast. Though specific references are avoided (and the video was actually shot in London) it's evident even from the song that he wants to reclaim the city from its negative image and the fear of violence ("For every time it's been hit/Take back the city tonight"). Fittingly the song was used earlier this year as the theme to a campaign to get locals and tourists back into Belfast after the rioting over the flag at City Hall. But you don't have to be from Northern Ireland to like this - indeed I've never been - because one of the great strengths of Snow Patrol is their ability to be emotionally open even with fairly traditional rock music, in a vulnerable rather than chest-beating way. That's why you can empathise and imagine that this song is about any home town you like - even I can relate to this as a Londoner, a city that's one of the least-maligned in the world of course but one that is sometimes frustrating and has of course been attacked by terrorism over the years. I think it's the fact that it's shy of becoming a full-on anthem, the way it's written by a human with mixed feelings, that paradoxically gives it strength.

Also appearing on: Now 57, 64, 65, 66, 67, 74
Available on: A Hundred Million Suns

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Kaiser Chiefs 'Never Miss A Beat'

Chart Peak: 5
The lads from Leeds shot to No. 5 in October 2008 with the first track from their third studio album Off With Their Heads... The stompingly anthemic 'Never Miss A Beat' was road-tested on the band's last tour and features backing vocals from Lily Allen and New Young Pony Club
Compared to the last few acts on this album, the Kaisers were a pretty venerable act, although they share with Razorlight the distinction of reaching the Top 5 with their last Top 40 single. At least the follow-up to this got as high as 111 in the chart, though that's scarcely better than the B-sides of this single did.

One imagines that after the moderate underperformance of their second album, the group felt the need for a rethink on the third and turned to the then very droppable name of Mark Ronson as producer. Despite his background in hip-hop and the success of his covers album in 2007, 'Never Miss A Beat' doesn't show a wild change in sound from earlier Kaisers material. The pounding drums and emphasis on rhythm that you might have associated with Ronson are in any case fundamental parts of the Kaisers sound, partly because the drummer was also the main songwriter (at least until he left last year). The main difference from previous work seems in fact to be that the vocals are less prominent in the mix, giving the track a slightly muddy sound and concealing the fact that the lyric is supposed to be a dialogue of two different characters both voiced by Ricky Wilson. More could have been made of the distinction really, especially as the song seems like it's trying to say something about youth culture and anti-intellectualism, albeit that the ideas seem a bit confused and the rhymes don't all work. What we're left with is a good catchy glam-rock song that's short and to the point. One I liked (though evidently not enough to buy it) but not something that  inspired me to listen to the remainder of the album. Not many other people did either and whilst the band still tour and record it's hard to see them resuming the sort of fame they had in 2005-7. I'd forgotten about Lily Allen's appearance until I read the sleeve note by the way; she can be heard on the chorus in the last few seconds, a contribution that seems more like an in-joke about the fact that she'd sung on Ronson's cover of 'Oh My God' than a necessary part of the track.

Also appearing on: Now 61, 62, 63, 66
Available on: Off With Their Heads

Friday, 6 December 2013

The Ting Tings 'Shut Up And Let Me Go'

Chart Peak: 6
Katie and Jules, AKA The Ting Tings, followed up their No. 1 smash 'That's Not My Name' with 'Shut Up And Let Me Go' - another highly infectious poptastic tune from the Salford duo., it reached the Top Ten in July 2008.. the recently won Best UK Music Video for 'That's Not My Name' at this year's MTV Video Music Awards.
Other sources suggest that it was in fact this very song whose video got that award, although as it's not available on YouTube (not even on their official Vevo account) I can't vouch for how good a choice that is. What the sleevenote neglects to mention is that this was their third Top 40 entry in consecutive weeks, an extraordinary start to a career. The aforementioned 'That's Not My Name' entered at the top first; when the album was released the following week an earlier, previously ineligible, single 'Great DJ' was belatedly allowed to chart. This track made the Top 75 that same week, and climbed to 29 the following week as it was featured prominently in a TV commercial at the time. So the duo were certainly not a one-hit wonder - within a month they'd had as many hits as Noah and Iglu combined - but it's fair to say that their time in the spotlight was brief, a plethora of hit singles from the first album followed by two years' silence, a one-off minor hit, another 18 months and a flop album in early 2012. There were boasts of an entire album's material being junked in between, although some eagle-eyed observers noticed a lot of the same song titles on the eventual second album.

Anyway, back in 2008 you can perhaps see the seeds of some of this as the Ting Tings always seemed so determined to be quirky and defiant. Perhaps it was a way to rebuff the suspicion that their career had been bought by Katie White's grandfather's lottery win, but they have a very self-conscious quality about them that distracts from the actual music, although of course it's a matter of opinion whether that's a good or bad thing. As somebody with a limited interest in "attitude" as a music attribute, I find that the best parts of this song are the ones that remind me a bit of other songs - that guitar line that's a bit like 'Last Night A DJ Saved My Life' and the "hey" at the end which is seemingly straight from 'Top Of The Pops' by the Rezillos. At the time the Ting Tings were ubiquitous and insufferable, five years on they seem to have receded into history enough that I can see the skill involved and even recognise the catchiness. But it still feels a bit like a chore to actually hear this.

However, as this is December I suppose they deserve some credit for recording the festive version 'Shut Up And Let It Snow'.

Also appearing on: Now 70
Available on: We Started Nothing

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Iglu & Hartly 'In This City'

Chart Peak: 5


West Coast beach bums Iglu & Hartly scored a Top 5 debut UK hit with the anthemic 'In This City' in late September... With over 200 live shows under their belt, the band are currently spreading their magic on tour in the UK and Europe
After Noah and the Whale I should probably never say never about one-hit wonders, but these guys seem pretty dedicated to the cause, having seemingly not even bothered with a follow-up single. There certainly hasn't been a second album or anything. Though obviously Americans themselves, the group seem to have attracted attention and a record deal in the UK - indeed this song seems only to have been a hit here and in Ireland. It feels more Californian - in fact what it resembles most is a less funky Red Hot Chili Peppers. And when I say "less funky" I mean that in both senses - the style is different, with more of an 80s synth-pop feel; and it's less good than RHCP, a group I'm not that fond of but who are obviously skilled. What we're left with is a lot of beery people singing out of tune and some half-baked rapping. The best I can say for this is that one of them looks a bit like Mickey Dolenz, which reminds me that the Monkees made some good records.

So I'm not too disappointed about the lack of successful follow-ups to this, but they did get to meet the Vengaboys. More bum than beach, frankly.

Available on: And Then Boom [Explicit]

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Noah And The Whale '5 Years Time'

Chart Peak: 7

Brothers Charlie and Doug Fink joined forces with mates Tom and Urby to form Noah And The Whale back in 2006... Their incredibly catchy single '5 Years Time' was one of the songs of the summer - it reached No. 7 in the UK chart in July 2008
OK, I admit this song was one of the reasons I wanted to do this album on its fifth anniversary. Yes, I'm that obvious. Of course, when I first had that thought in about 2010, I was expecting to place them among the one-hit wonders on this album (at least in singles terms), but come 2011 they re-appeared as a more soft-rock oriented act and made a second appearance in the Top 20. This is closer to their original folk-rock style and even features Laura Marling on backing vocal, taking a break from her usual pastime of getting nominated for a Mercury prize. This is her only big hit single, although she also made the Top 40 on 'Young Love' by the Mystery Jets. The knowledge that she was at the time of recording dating Charlie Fink from the band just adds to the slightly self-satisfied faux-naive air of the song.

The song is indeed catchy but it plays the stopping and starting card a bit too often.  It keeps coming to an end and coming back, and less is definitely more in this case. Something about it feels a bit too contrived. I'm not sure whether you're supposed to root for the protagonists but I find them a bit annoying, and the arrangement has a slightly empty quality that overemphasises their voices, neither of which I like much, and which don't really gel. Five years later I don't mind this song as much as I did at the time because it's less ubiquitous. But I still sort of find myself hoping the imaginary couple singing this song together aren't still together.

Also appearing on: Now 78
Available on: Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Razorlight 'Wire To Wire'

Chart Peak: 5
Johnny, Andy, Carl and Bjorn, A.K.A. Razorlight, released their third album Slipway Fires in early November 2008... The first single from the album, the emotional piano-led 'Wire To Wire', reached No.5 in the UK chart in October 2008 and became their 9th Top 40 hit
Their ninth and also their last: the follow-up single failed to trouble the Top 200. I can't remember offhand what it was called but I do remember Johnny Borrell singing "You say you've been born again since you slept in the lion's den," so no wonder it put people off.

Off the back of the huge success of the Razorlight album and the Number One single 'America', Johnny Borrell's ego was going stratospheric at this point, repulsing as many as it attracted. Dare I say there were some people hoping to see them crash and burn at this point, and that I might even have been one of them? 'Wire To Wire' was a surprising choice of comeback - not the sort of obvious hit a record label might have mandated from a less confident act, but also not the sort of wilfully endless multipart epic you might have feared at this juncture. In fact it's a fairly modest piece of music, running less than three minutes and quite understated in arrangement. It's actually rather effective because it keeps you waiting for a big show-off moment that never happens, and is very well arranged around the main piano part, which is also very well recorded. It's a pity that Borrell's vocal spoils it with that distinctive tone of a man who thinks he's a much better singer than he is, and whose voice simply doesn't suit the tone or style of the song. It also attracts attention to pretentious lyrics like "She lives on Disillusion Row/We go where the wild blood flows" - notice the Bob Dylan reference in there for extra self-importance.

The band effectively split after this: drummer and co-writer left in early 2009, and the other members departed in 2010. Borrell toured with an all-new line-up for a couple of years, then put the group on "hiatus" to release a solo album which infamously sold only 594 copies in its first week of release. As a result of the backlash, I hadn't heard this song for nearly four years and I must admit it was much more pleasant to come back to than I expected. I don't especially recommend the video though, unless you want to see lots of close-ups of Borrell with his shirt open.

Also appearing on: Now 58, 61, 64, 65, 66
Available on: Slipway Fires

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Script 'The Man Who Can't be Moved'

Chart Peak: 2

Irish trio The Script followed up their debut single 'We Cry' with 'The Man Who Can't be Moved', which shot to No. 2 in the UK charts in August 2008 - their third single 'Breakeven' is due for release in November... Commenting on the group's ethos, guitarist Mark says "soul is not a black thing or a white thing, it's a human thing".
In a return to the thread of unlikely writing credits, the Wikipedia entry for this song lists Jay-Z among the writers of this song, although that's not backed up by the album's entry not by any other source I looked at. Possibly it's just a cut-and-paste error, or maybe somebody was just desperate to pretend this song was in some way interesting even if they had to make up facts.

'The Man Who Can't Be Moved' seems very like a song that wants to be 'You're Beautiful' - it has similar tempo and production, the same sort of showy use of falsetto and a similar storyline. In both songs, a man conceives a grand gesture to win back an ex, although this song is more explicit about the plan. Apparently he's going to hang around on a street corner in a sleeping bag, which I suppose is meant to sound romantic but actually just sounds a bit seedy. It's set to music that sounds like it was written and recorded entirely by the marketing department after months of focus group tests to make something that fits the most possible radio formats in key territories. It worked, of course, but I'm the man who can't be moved by this.

Also appearing on: Now 70, 72, 77, 83
Available on: The Man Who Can't Be Moved

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Coldplay 'Viva La Vida'

Chart Peak: 1 (1 week)

'Viva La Vida' is the title track from Coldplay's hugely successful fourth studio album... It shot to the top spot in the UK charts on download sales alone, scoring the band their first ever UK Number One single in June 2008
Though download-only releases had been eligible for the singles chart since the start of 2007, and the first track to top the chart through digital sales alone was as long ago as 2006, 'Viva La Vida' is the first UK Number One single never to have been released on a physical single in this country - whether it's the first ever totally digital chart-topper depends on how you treat the track that it deposed: Mint Royale's version of 'Singin' In The Rain', which had been released physically a few years earlier but was no longer widely available on disc (it reportedly sold in single-figure quantities while at the top due to old stock).

What makes this song's success all the more impressive is that it was initially ineligible as it was one of the first tracks to be released as an "instant-grat", supplied immediately to anyone who pre-ordered the album on iTunes - under chart rules in force at the time even individual sales of the track not linked to this incentive weren't counted, reputedly due to either EMI's or Apple's refusal to supply a breakdown of sales between the two methods. The rules were finally changed earlier in 2013, with Justin Timberlake's 'Mirrors' the first beneficiary, though almost immediately record companies started mucking about and breaching the new rules by putting out multiple instant grats from the same album. Back in 2008, though, 'Viva La Vida' finally became entitled to a singles chart position in the first full week that the album was released and rather unpredictably entered at the very top. Admittedly it did so on a relatively low weekly sale, though in fairness it's been a steady seller ever since and has a decent total. It remained an impressive achievement before full promotion of the single had begun, before there was a video and well before the intended release date, though perhaps this was a harbinger of how much less important nominal release dates would become in the digital era. A mooted 7" release was ultimately abandoned as too late to be relevant, though CD singles were released in mainland Europe.

I suppose what all this implies is that the song had big crossover appeal, selling to people who wouldn't have bothered with the album - no small seller itself of course - and possibly weren't even that keen on Coldplay generally. They are a band who seem to rub a lot of people up the wrong way, indeed, but this track is also a bit of a departure for them in sonic terms. Reportedly the song went through many different incarnations in the studio, and doubtless one day we'll get them all released on a boxed set, but the finished version has an unusual construction featuring mostly orchestral instruments behind Chris Martin's vocal, which compared to typical rock music makes it seem both sparse and opulent. Even the percussion is mostly bells and timpani and as far as I'm concerned it's pretty hard to go wrong with timpani. Martin's lyric carries some air of mystery about it, seemingly sung from the perspective of a deposed despot who seems to see some positive sides to his demotion "Och, who would ever want to be king?" Perhaps this is some sort of metaphor for his own clearly ambivalent attitude to fame, and his status as the leader of a band who quickly became much bigger than I can imagine they ever expected or intended. Whatever he might really mean, the sweeping drama of the music is a powerful setting for it (or a good opportunity to ignore the words entirely, of course) and this totally deserves its placing as one of the band's biggest hits. In fact after writing this I start to feel a bit bad about not buying it at the time, though there's no point try to do anything about it now as I obviously have the track on Now 71 itself.

I would incidentally have laughed at the Wikipedia claim that this song is "often confused with 'Livin' La Vida Loca'" had I not in fact seen somebody do that in a Facebook discussion just a few weeks ago. However, I don't know whether it was entirely necessary to spell out that Ricky Martin and Chris Martin are not related.

Also appearing on: Now 46, 47, 48, 53, 54, 55, 61, 62, 63, 70, 79, 81, 82 (with Rihanna)
Available on: Violent Veg - 40 Favourite Songs For Dad!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Steve Mac 'Paddy's Revenge'

Chart Peak: 17
Steven McCutcheon - AKA Steve Mac - scored a Top 20 hit in September 2008 with his club anthem 'Paddy's Revenge'... The track samples Penguin Cafe Orchestra's chillout classic 'Music For A Found Harmonium'.
Far be it from me to quibble with the sleeve note, but Steven McCutcheon is the producer of many Syco-related singles and album, whereas this record is by Stephen McGuinness, remixer and ex-member of Rhythm Masters. It's the second instrumental in a row, although due to the brevity of radio edits that's only about five minutes without vocals.

It is indeed based on the Penguin Cafe Orchestra track, to put it mildly. In fact it's basically part of that song sped up a bit with some extra beats, taking advantage of the resemblance between a harmonium and an accordion for some ironic national stereotyping. It sounds more like a novelty record than something people would actually want to play in a club, but I don't suppose he ever intended it to be more than a bit of fun, so mission accomplished. I wouldn't care if I never heard it again though.

Available on: Paddy's Revenge

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Eric Prydz 'Pjanoo'

Chart Peak: 2
'Pjanoo' (pronounced 'Piano') is, not surprisingly, a piano-led house track by highly acclaimed DJ and producer Eric Prydz... It took the club scene by storm over the summer and climbed to No. 2 in the UK chart in September 2008 giving him a 3rd massive UK hit following 'Call On Me' (2004) and 'Proper Education' (2007).
It's quite remarkable to have three consecutive Top 3 singles, but spread over the space of four years. I suppose you can't accuse him of flooding the market. No less remarkably, 'Pjanoo' is the only one of those three hits that appeared on his debut album Eric Prydz Presents Pryda, and even that was four years later. It also puts him alongside Madness, Fleetwood Mac and the Shadows in the small group of acts who've made the Top 10 with both instrumental and vocal singles.

As if to prove my point about the retro tendencies of late-2000s dance, Prydz claimed that this track was an old outtake from 1996 that just went down well at a DJ gig so he freshened it up for single release. Whether or not that's true, the fact that it was at all believable speaks volumes about the sound of the song, and the trends it fitted into. It's a very simple track and unusually a totally instrumental one with no sampled or spoken vocals of any kind. It certainly has a piano on it, although not quite the sort of big reverby one I tend to associate with piano house from the early 1990s. The radio edit is a tactfully brief 2 minutes and 37 seconds, which is quite pleasant although it doesn't go anywhere really. I'm not sure I could ever be bothered with the full club mix.

Coincidentally, I heard this song in Poundland today, and the ability to mention that fact in this post is alas the highlight of that visit. Also, today is the 30th anniversary of the release of the very first Now album, so I think it might also be the fifth anniversary of this blog. You might expect me to know that sort of thing, wouldn't you?

Also appearing on: Now 59, 66
Available on: Superstar DJs - Ministry of Sound

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Basshunter 'Angel In the Night'

Chart Peak: 14

Arguably the biggest dance star of 2008, Basshunter returned to the scene with another floorfiller 'Angel In The Night'... It followed his earlier smash hits 'All I Ever Wanted' and 'Now You're Gone' into the UK chart in September 2008.
It's fair to say I think that Basshunter's star burned brightly but briefly. An impressive five Top 40 singles in 2008 were accompanied by a Number One album, but success has been more limited in subsequent years. 'Angel In The Night', apparently a reworking of an earlier track, was the third of the five hits and puts the emphasis on his singing ability. That's a pity because, even heavily autotuned, he doesn't seem to have any. It seems like he was more interested in having an excuse to make a video sequel than in the song itself, which is pure filler.

Also appearing on: Now 69, 70
Available on: Now You're Gone [Deluxe Edition]

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Sash! featuring Stunt 'Raindrops (Encore Une Fois)'

Chart Peak: 9


'Encore Une Fois' gained massive chart success for Sascha "Sash!" Lappeson in early 1997 and 'Raindrops' was a big club hit for DJ Stunt a couple of years ago... The two combined forces along with vocalist Molly Smithen Downes to score a Top Ten hit in October 2008.
There seems to have been a big retro movement in the clubs in 2008, with many a 90s hit re-worked and back in the high end of the chart. The history of this track is confusing, but the original Stunt track (which already seems to have the vocal) bears at least a passing resemblance to 'Encore Une Fois' already, so a couple of years later a French DJ took the obvious next step and fitted the two together, with the actual 'Encore Une Fois' vocal appearing at times. I was never a great fan of the original Sash! song and hearing the Stunt one for the first time tonight it didn't do a lot for me either. The combined version seems somehow even less than the sum of its parts although I guess I can imagine it going off well in a club, at least the first couple of times people heard it.

Sash! also appears on: Now 36, 37 [with Rodrigues], 38 [with LaTrec], 39, 41 [with Shannon], 42, 45,
Available on: 20 All Time Dance Anthems

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Katy Perry 'Hot N Cold'

Chart Peak:

The feisty Ms Perry's second big hit single 'Hot N Cold' stormed into the UK chart in October 2008... Katy joins that rare breed of artist that have had two tracks on the same Now album!
I'm open to correction on this point, but I think this is the only time a sleevenote actually refers to a double appearance explicitly. So here Ms Perry follows in the footsteps of UB40, All Saints, Oasis, Culture Club and, er, Kajagoogoo.

It's amazing the stuff you read can find out on Wikipedia. Apparently one of the bridesmaids in the video is played by a friend of hers who was a contestant on the US equivalent of Fame Academy: the show proved such a monumental flop that it was cancelled after two weeks with no winner ever made public. That's more interesting than the song itself which is notable only for proving me wrong; I'd been pretty sure that the novelty of 'I Kissed A Girl' would have made her a one-hit-wonder. I suppose I was better off being totally wrong that just slightly. 'Hot N Cold' is essentially what her first hit would have been without the shock value, ie a second-rate P!nk song. It hints at controversy with the lyric "You PMS like a bitch", which is obviously dropped from most radio edits, and there is reportedly a special edit for theme parks (thanks again, Wikipedia!). Otherwise it's just poorly-sung doggerell that doesn't sound as bad as I thought it might after five years, but it doesn't really sound any good either.

Also appearing on: Now 72, 73, 75 [with Timbaland], 76 [with Snoop Dogg], 77, 78 [with Kanye West], 79, 81, 82, 83, 86
Available on: One Of The Boys

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Boyzone 'Love You Anyway'

Chart Peak: 5
Boyzone originally formed back in 1994 and had a hugely successful career - they had an incredible 16 consecutive Top 5 hits including 6 No. 1s... Ronan, Stephen, Shane, Mikey and Keith returned to the UK chart in October 2008 with the up-tempo, catchy 'Love You Anyway', chalking up yet another Top 5 hit.
Top 5 hit it was indeed, although a peak of 5 meant it was actually their lowest-charting single at the time; however, subsequent singles have all done even worse and at time of writing, they look like missing the Top 40 entirely with their new single this week. Of course their chart positions were greatly bolstered by the fact that their original career took place almost entirely in the second half of the 1990s, a time of frontloaded multi-format sales when release dates could be cleverly stage-managed to ensure the best chance of a high debut, something Louis Walsh took even further with his next charges Westlife. Of course, an act still needs a certain degree of underlying popularity to manage that but it's a factor you need to account for when you're impressed by that run of success.

'Love You Anyway' was very much a comeback single for the group - though unlike Take That they'd never officially announced a split, Ronan Keating departed for a solo career in 1999 (launched by a solo track featured on a Boyzone best-of!) and with the second most popular member Stephen Gately also releasing solo material in 2000 the others eventually had to accept the inevitable and get on with their lives. There was reportedly some bitterness between Keating and the less famous members, and between him and former manager Louis Walsh, but the sight of sales figures for Take That's comeback seem to have healed all wounds and the band reunited for a performance at Children In Need in 2007, then a full-on tour the following year. Like Take That, they smartly tested the waters with the tour of old songs and the greatest hits album before they tried to sell new material, though they compromised slightly by releasing two new singles from the hits collection. This was the first one, and fortunately considering the circumstances it proved to be one of the best things they ever did. Far from the balladry we might have expected, it's an upbeat track with what's apparently supposed to be a Spector-style wall of sound, though to me it sounds more like a pastiche of a Seventies glam-era pastiche of that sound, something like Roy Wood's Wizzard maybe? It also reminds me slightly of the Lightning Seeds, I'm not totally sure why. It definitely has quite a "busy" production, with a lot of percussion and some sort of synthesised theremin wobbling over it at times. It's no masterpiece - this is Boyzone after all - and the chorus does let the side down a bit, endlessly rephrasing the conceit "it's hard to love you but I love you anyway" like a confused Just A Minute contestant. Still, it could have been much worse and with Boyzone, it usually was.

Unfortunately, the album title "Back Together... No Matter What" was prophetic in more ways than they expected, with the death of Stephen Gately in 2009 postponing plans for new material. The did finally release the comeback studio album in 2010, with another to follow in a couple of days' time. I shan't be at the front of the queue.

Also appearing on: Now 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45,
Available on: Back Again... No Matter What - The Greatest Hits (UK comm CD)

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Saturdays 'Up'

Chart Peak: 5
New girls on the block The Saturdays (Una, Rochelle, Vanessa, Mollie and Frankie) smashed their way into the Top 10 in August with their debut hit 'If This Is Love'... Their 2nd hit 'Up', and addictive pop anthem complete with explosive chorus, shot into the Top 5 in October 2008.
The Sats may have been a new act, but they weren't all newcomers to pop: Frankie Sandford - still a teenager at this point! - was already onto her third chart act, after success with S Club Juniors/S Club 8 and I Dream Featuring Frankie And Calvin. Rochelle Wiseman was also a former S Club Junior and appeared in the I Dream TV series but not on their one hit single. 

The Saturdays were a different and slightly more grown-up proposition, though, an entirely female act who seemed like they might have been intended to take over from the Sugababes and Girls Aloud. Perhaps unfortunately for them those acts weren't quite ready to leave at the time, and the Sats have spent most of the last five years in a slightly odd position, chalking up the big hits on a pretty regular basis and playing sizeable live venues but never quite seeming to be big stars. They don't sell a lot of albums either, even by this decade's standards. Somehow even when they were the biggest girl-group in the country by default, they still
didn't really feel like it. If that sounds negative, it's slightly unfortunate because I actually sort of like the Saturdays. At least they seem like nice people, though the quality of their music is wildly variable. 'Up' is one of the good ones, albeit that it's straight off the Scandinavian production line. According to Wikipedia "The lyrics have been interpreted by music critics to not make sense," but they're set against a sound track that's slightly weird but still melodic. The repetition of a couple of notes gives it wobbly, unsteady quality that might just about fit into the sense of the lyric, if they are indeed talking about wanting to take a relationship to the next level. Well, let's be realistic, they're probably talking about sex aren't they? That makes the lyric "I don't want protection" a bit iffy, to be honest, but at least the rest of the song is fairly incoherent around it so they just about get away with it. It's a shame that this was only their second single and they've never really bettered it since. 

Also appearing on: Now 72, 73, 74, 75, 77 (with Flo Rida), 79, 80, 82, 84 (with Sean Paul), 85, 86
Available on: Chasing Lights (UK Re-Release)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Sugababes 'Girls'

Chart Peak: 3

'Girls' is the first single to be taken from the 'Babes sixth studio album Catfights And Spotlights... The track is based around Ernie K. Doe's classic soul-funk anthem 'Here Come The Girls' and stormed to No. 3 in the UK chart in October 2008
Although it was a decent-sized hit - and not their last of them either - 'Girls' has been seen in retrospect as the beginning of the end for the group. Of course, officially no split has ever been announced but the group have been inactive for a couple of years now and their last album  - which featured no original group memebers - was a relative flop.

As somebody who's enjoyed little of what's been released under the Sugababes name, I'm probably not best placed to judge this but for a long time the group and their advisors were praised for their instincts, which allowed them to come up with exactly the right single to impress the critics and fans, and somehow be perceived as cool as well as populist. What the sleevenotes don't mention is that 'Here Come The Girls' had been used in a TV commercial over Christmas 2007, which meant that they seemed to be cashing in on a year-old advert. That's not what most people consider cool. Admittedly, the air of cash-in might not have been quite so strong had the song been better - but they slip up a bit there as well, oddly not sampling the funky playing of the Meters on the original (and it's not like nobody ever sampled the Meters) but recreating the brassy stabs on cheap synthesisers. The lyrics don't have a lot to offer either and they don't sound like they're even convincing themselves. Also, whenever I hear Keisha Buchanan sing "stop speculating I'm a regular girl" I wonder exactly who's been speculating about that. Even the video looks cheap, in both senses of the term.

The best thing about this is that it adds Allen Toussaint to the list of unexpected writing credits on Now 71.

Also appearing on: Now 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 62, 63, 64, 66, 68, 69, 70, 74, 75
Available on: Girls

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Geraldine 'The Winners Song'

Chart Peak: 2

Funnyman Peter Kay's reality TV show parody Britain's Got The Pop Factor... And Possibly A New Celebrity Jesus Christ Superstar Strictly On Ice spawned the victorious Geraldine McQueen... Her single 'The Winner's Song' reached No. 2 in the UK chart in October 2008.
The notes are evidently too polite to mention this but the single was intentionally scheduled for the week when the 2007 X-Factor winner Leon Jackson released his first proper single (the follow-up to his own winner's song, featured on Now 69 of course). Presumably there was hope of provoking a media-friendly battle for the Number One single, but it didn't turn out that way: "Geraldine" entered at Number 2 behind P!nk with Jackson a not especially close third. Simon Cowell might have been disappointed by that outcome, though it seems unlikely that he cared that much about Jackson in the first place - as the wise businessman that he is, Cowell evidently invests in winners based on his faith in their future prospects. In any case, Kay's satire seems a bit of an inside job; the original TV broadcast featured people from real talent and reality shows as themselves, whilst this song was written by Kay and Gary Barlow (not yet the X-Factor judge he now is, but already an associate of the show). It was even produced by Syco collaborator Steve Mac, who did a lot of the real winners' songs. And the tabloids did do their best by trying to manufacture outrage over the fact that this wasn't a charity single - not that he'd ever said it was, but supposedly some people had assumed it was like Kay's previous (and subsequent) musical endeavours.

By 2008, Peter Kay hadn't done real new work for a while, attracting criticism for releasing DVDs of the same jokes repeatedly. So there was a lot of anticipation about the TV special, although I didn't watch it and can't comment much on how funny or satirical it was; I believe there was some controversy about the fact that the Geraldine McQueen character was supposed to be transsexual and that this was arguably the butt of some of the humour (particularly given the size and shape of Kay himself even in character). As to the song itself, it's a fairly effective shot at a very easy target, though it's a little dated now because X-Factor winners no longer seem to be given songs that refer directly to the talent-show struggle narrative: whatever 'When We Collide', 'Cannonball' and 'Impossible' have in common, they don't really talk about striving in the way that 'That's My Goal' and 'A Moment Like This' did. Actually, that's quite an interesting digression in itself, but a bit beyond the scope of this post, so I'll save the speculation for another time. Meanwhile Kay's lyric talks about striving and success in a way that's slightly ambiguous and also a bit clod-hopping, presumably patterned after 'A Moment Like This' in particular (which would also fit with when he'd most likely have written it). Barlow produces a very exact pastiche of the slow-build by-numbers ballad for show-off singers, complete with key-change. In fact it's so close to the real thing I have to wonder whether he might just have dusted off something he'd already written rather than coming up with this for the occasion. I'm not sure whether it's more or less funny in retrospect now that Barlow's written very similar songs in earnest for Westlife and Matt Cardle - though I for one find it hilarious that neither of those singles was as successful as this one.

Also appearing on: Now 78 (with Susan Boyle)
Available on: The Winners Song

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Jordin Sparks 'Tattoo'

Chart Peak: 24 [originally 50]

American Idol winner Jordin Sparks follows up her No. 3 smash 'No Air' with a re-release of 'Tattoo'... The talented teen co-wrote the track with acclaimed British songwriter Amanda Ghost ('You're Beautiful', 'Beautiful Liar' et al)

Really, with that pedigree this song should have been called 'Beautiful Tattoo', surely? Any writing credit for Sparks herself seems to have gone AWOL, in fact, though there are credits for another British songwriter - former EMF man Ian Dench - and for Stargate, the writing/production team who've worked on so much of this album already.

The result of that is a US Top 10 hit that radio lapped up but the record buying public in the UK were calmer about; admittedly, the ultimate chart peak is deflated by the fact that it was climbing there ever since the repromotion started, whereas even a couple of years earlier they could have held back sales to the time when a CD single was released and let it enter in at least the Top 20, but a truly massive song would have broken out anyway. Of course it's always a bit of a problem for foreign talent show winners to succeed in countries where the audience aren't already invested in them (American Idol is apparently shown in the UK but to a relatively tiny audience) but I'd like to think that the blandness of the song is a part of the problem too. Like a lot of this first disc, it's not just formulaic but seems actively resistant to doing anything that might attract your attention, as if they're scared of waking up the audience. It's not just that there's noting jarring or dramatic, but everything is totally predictable, every part of the melody goes exactly where you'd expect it too. It's what makes something like the Will Young song stand out more than it arguably should.

Rather like Jennifer Hudson (and indeed many other Idol acts), Sparks has been somewhat quiet on the recording front after the first couple of years; her last album release was in 2009. She does however appear as a guest vocalist with her boyfriend Jason Derulo on his new album, which is coincidentally called Tattoos.

Meanwhile, since I haven't posted it yet, here's a photo of the first disc from Now 71. It is a nice shade of purple, but if you decide to get it tattooed on yourself that's your own responsibility.

Also appearing on: Now 70 [with Chris Brown], 73
Available on: Jordin Sparks

Monday, 18 November 2013

Will Young 'Changes'

Chart Peak: 10


Will made a welcome return to the UK chart in September 2008 with the Top 10 hit 'Changes'... The track has been described as "a sweeping burst of contemporary pop that perfectly showcases Will's soulful vocals".

That quote may not have come from an entirely unbiased source, you know. I suppose Will Young was arguably meeting James Morrison from the other direction; he had of course started out as a talent-show winner who scored the fastest-selling single of the century but wasn't taken at all seriously. Six years later he had with some success carved out a career for himself as a singer of quality MOR, although his attempts to branch out from ballads were met with mixed response. Now he was working with most of the same writers and producers as Morrison (Eg White in this case) and creating a faintly similar sort of music.

The odd thing is, though, that I like this song a lot more than I liked 'You Make It Real'. I suppose I warmed more to Young than Morrison, even though Young has probably made more music that I actually dislike. Perhaps there's a humble quality that other singers seem to lack (on record, not necessarily in real life), or maybe he just retained more of his pop sensibility. Either way, this song has an undeniably brilliant chorus that makes me fond of it whoever's on vocals. Resistance would be futile.

Also appearing on: Now 57, 62, 63, 64, 80
Available on: Let It Go

Saturday, 16 November 2013

James Morrison 'You Make It Real'

Chart Peak: 7


James' soaring new single 'You Make It Real' was written about "a significant who keeps you in check when your life is going to hell around you"... It reached No. 7 in the UK chart on its release in October 2008.

James Morrison (not to be confused with Jim Morrison from the Doors, or Jimbob from Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine whose real name is James Morrison) was one of a large number of throaty male singers who were heavily pushed by the industry in the mid-late 2000s after the success of James Blunt. Of course, the male singer-songwriter is a type of act that record companies will always have on their books, but there seemed to be a particular drive to turn them into MOR pop stars around this time - it's notable that many of them, Morrison included, weren't quite singer-songwriters in the traditional sense as they were reliant on co-writers.

Of course, the disadvantage of this is that as most of these singers were working with several collaborators it tended to rein in their individuality; and with in-demand songwriters working for so many clients things did start to sound very samey. Listened to now, this track doesn't sound at all bad: Morrison has a decent raspy voice, even if there's something slightly unconvincing about it. There are some nice touches in the arrangement too, I do like a low electric piano. The trouble is, at the time it seemed like he released this same song too many times, and a dozen other people were releasing it as well, and however heartfelt it might actually have been it just seemed routine and contrived. I hear he's a lovely bloke and all but he seems sometimes to be trying to come over as more serious than he actually is and the end result can be bland.

Also appearing on: Now 64, 65, 72 (with Nelly Furtado), 73, 80
Available on: Totally Chick Flicks

Friday, 15 November 2013

Jennifer Hudson 'Spotlight'

Chart Peak: 11

American Idol finalist and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson is a woman of many talents.. Her October 2008 debut UK hit 'Spotlight' was written and co produced by the winning combination of Ne-Yo and Stargate.
Slightly unfortunate juxtaposition here, since at the time when Now 71 was released, Jennifer Hudson had withdrawn from the public eye due to the murder of several members of her family by her estranged brother-in-law, a sad reminder of how real a problem domestic violence is. It's an unfortunate coincidence as well that her first major hit (she'd snuck into the Top 75 with a track from the Sex & The City movie) is a song about an overly attentive boyfriend. Presumably it's not intended to have quite the same emotional weight as a true story would, and it flounders a little because, although her singing is very good the song is just a bit dull. The lyrics are well-written, the chorus is decent enough in isolation but the trouble is that the verse is too similar, the production too slick and the whole thing just too uneventful. Pretty much what you'd expect from Ne-Yo I suppose but there's a bit of a wasted opportunity here.

Although she did return to recording and release a second album, this remains her only Top 30 single as she seems to have concentrated on musical theatre and films where things actually happen. Earlier this week she received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.

Available on: Jennifer Hudson

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Chris Brown 'Forever'

Chart Peak:

'Forever' was originally written by Chris Brown as a jingle for a chewing gum commercial... The multi-award-winning 19 year old then spruced it up and turned it into a Top 5 single to give him a second massive UK success in Summer 2008.
Written for a jingle? You'd never guess. Actually that little three-note hook sounds more like the sting they play before an announcement through a public address system than anything else. I haven't exactly been looking forward to writing directly about my namesake, but the time has come. This track, of course, predates the domestic violence incident that made him notorious but he was already a very arrogant man. And whilst it would be tempting to refuse to write about this song entirely because of his reprehensible off-stage behaviour that does feel like a bit of a cop-out. It's also tempting, if in dubious taste, to try and over-interpret the song, or make some joke about the lyric "look what I can do with my feet".

The dilemma is lessened by the fact that the record is so poor anyway. Brown obviously fancies himself as Michael Jackson and has often consciously cast himself as an heir to him. The thing is though that, love him or hate him, Jackson built up a catalogue of memorable and distinctive hit songs that made him unmistakable. Brown has aimed straight for the till, making the most generic music possible to follow whatever trends seem popular with his target demographic. It's one thing to become rich out of doing this, but he's amassed a famously loyal (and worryingly, mostly female) fanbase who don't take kindly to criticism of their idol. One can only assume that his lyrical agenda, which consists pretty much entirely of "look at me I'm great", has convinced them. It doesn't sway me, though, particularly not in what's supposed to be a love song. Even if I didn't hate him I'd still think this was rubbish.

On the positive side, it's quite a relief that I don't have the @chrisbrown Twitter account, even though I did have the name first in real life.

Also appearing on: Now 70, 78, 79 (with Benny Benassi), 81 (with Pitbull), 82, 83
Available on: Pure... R&B Party

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Madcon 'Beggin'

Chart Peak: 5


Norwegian hip-hop/rap duo Madcon, short for Mad Conspiracy, are Tshawe Baqwa (AKA Kapricon) and Yosef Wolde-Mariam (AKA Critical)... their first single 'Beggin', originally recorded by the Four Seasons in 1967, gave them a No. 5 hit in the UK chart in September 2008.

A more obvious Sixties borrowing here, and in this case indeed Bob Gaudio and his original co-writer Peggy Farina get all the writing credits, with Madcon seemingly not getting a penny for the lyrics they added themselves. Whilst it's certainly a Four Seasons song, it was Timebox who had the original UK hit. The Four Seasons version slipped into the Top 40 thanks to a "Re-edit" in 2007 and its unusual video, and perhaps it was club success of this that prompted the Madcon version; at least I'm presuming the reworked version had been doing the rounds in clubs for some time before it got a commercial release.

Although it took me some time to realise this, due to an ingrained dislike of the Four Seasons caused by associations with their screechy early hits, the song is actually a pretty good one. It's perhaps a prototype for Northern Soul, notable for the complete absence of falsetto. Madcon's version is a solid reproduction in a slightly more modern production style, with some new rapped verses which don't add much but don't detract a lot either. I tend to suspect that the Europe-wide success of this version had more to do with the song itself being new to people than with anything about this particular rendition. Madcon haven't really had any other British success to speak of, making them the first of several (UK) one-hit wonders on Now 71, but in their homeland they're one of the biggest acts ever. Their latest album features guest appearances from Kelly Rowland, Snoop Lion and Estelle, and they appeared as the interval act at Eurovision in 2010. I can well imagine that if you'd never heard the song before this would sound brilliant, but I think I'd stick with the Timebox version myself.

Available on: So Dark The Con Of Man [Explicit]

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Pussycat Dolls 'When I Grow Up'

Chart Peak: 3

The Dolls made a long-awaited return to the charts with the sassy single 'When I Grow Up' which hit No. 3 in September 2008, nearly two years after their last single 'I Don't Need A Man'... The track is a tongue-in-cheek look at our fame-obsessed culture

To be pedantic, their last single before this was the download-only release of 'Wait A Minute', but nonetheless it did follow a lengthy gap. Apparently this was one of almost a hundred songs recorded for a Nicole Sherzinger solo album that was never released; she then decided this one was more suited to the group, presumably because it needed the massive artistic input of the other members?

Either way, it ended up as the lead single for the second (and, it would seem, last) PCD album and a major hit, though it seems weirdly forgotten now, possibly one of those songs that becomes a bit hit because it's a new track by a big act more than because people are really enthusiastic about it. Whilst sampling was hardly a new phenomenon in 2008, it does seem to bring some unexpected names into the writing credits on Now 71 - as well as Warren Zevon a couple of tracks ago, the rhythm section from The Yardbirds get a mention and a royalty due to the beat of this track being based on their 1966 album track 'He's Always There'. So full marks for the imaginative source material, fewer for what they do with it. I don't believe for a moment that anybody who was that cynical about fame would join the pop spin-off from a burlesque dancing franchise and the song doesn't do a lot to convince either, seeming very by-numbers with the possible exception of the bit where it sounds like they're saying "I wanna have boobies". In other words, it's cynically pretending to be cynical, and I'm too much of a cynic not to notice. Maybe if the music was any less inane or the performance was any good I might think otherwise, but I wonder whether anyone was ever expected to listen to this track without also watching the video.

Also appearing on: Now 62 (with Busta Rhymes), 63 (with, 65, 73 (with A.R. Rahman)
Available on: Doll Domination (UK Version)

Monday, 11 November 2013

Ne-Yo 'Miss Independent'

Chart Peak: 6


Ne-Yo followed up his No. 1 smash hit 'Closer' with 'Miss Independent' - another Top 10 hit from the hot production outfit StarGate... At the end of October 2008, he sang 'The Star Spangled Banner' before a special America football game at Wembley Stadium.

If you want to play connections, the smallest of the four hits from the original version of the Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad was a duet with Shaffer Smith on 'Hate That I Love You', which was the only one of the four not to get onto a Now album. Still he has plenty of his own appearances, including this and his four solo chart-toppers in alternate years (three more than he managed back home, so I guess that's a tenuous link to Kid Rock) and he also wrote several Rihanna songs he didn't sing on. 'Miss Independent', no connection to the Kelly Clarkson hit of the same title, was unusual back then as the second pre-album single from a record by a US-based act, though the practice became increasingly common in the subsequent years partly due to the desire to appeal to different market segments. So after the electronic dance sound of the aforementioned 'Closer', this is in a more radio-friendly loverman style, and was indeed his first hit to be picked up by Radio 2 over here.

The album was called Year Of The Gentleman, and according to Ne-Yo himself this was supposed to be the sort of style he'd adopted. Unfortunately he seems to thing that being a gentleman consists entirely of wearing a trilby hit at a jaunty angle since this song is otherwise pretty bog-standard in style. Lyrically, it's one of those odd songs that seems to present itself as being a tribute to women but ends up just sounding patronising as he marvels at the fact that a women might have a job, drive a car, pay for things with her own money and so on. Geez, they'll be letting them vote soon! By the time he starts saying "there's something about a girl that don't need my help" I just think, isn't that all of them Ne-Yo? Maybe if they released this song in Saudi Arabia it might have seemed more radical but he just sounds like a smarmy pillock here. And if the song's bad, the video's even worse, depicting Ne-Yo going to work in an office where he seems to have nothing better to do than perve over his female colleagues (who all greet him by name in case you forget whose video this is), save for when he takes a break to gawp out of the window at a passer-by. Mind you, I'm not sure all the staff are happy about that.

In the emotional climax of the video he asks the boss for a date and she refuses and gives him some work to do (!) but then at the end she does ask him how she can make it up to him for no adequately explained reason. Maybe it's supposed to be because he's wearing a hat, but would a properly brought-up gentleman have worn it indoors all day? I know it's only a video but the more I think about it the more it annoys me, probably because the song itself is so uninteresting.

Also appearing on: Now 64, 65, 67, 70, 72, 73 (with Keri Hilson and Kanye West), 77, 79 (with Pitbull, Afrojack and Nayer), 83
Available on: Year Of The Gentleman (UK Version)