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