#001: Continental Niceties
espite the trickle of overseas artists, the UK and US charts are fairly insular. Their own product dominates the upper echelons of the charts, sometimes much to the agony of those who follow pop. What many pop fans don't realise is that there's heaps of great pop being made in other countries that never makes its way across.
Sometimes it's the language barrier, but sometimes there seems to be no good reason why it doesn't cross over. This column will cover a range of stuff that may have missed your radar—and the occasional nugget that will make it big on your shores. Most of it's European, because that's where most of this undiscovered stuff is made.
This page is likely to be the first, or perhaps more likely, only place you hear about some of these songs.
The European charts go through stages where they're very similar-the same songs flooding each chart-and others when they're very different. Right now, we're in a moment of flux where there is no dominant musical trend. As such there's a bit of variety, so there are lots of great nuggets to pick from. Tracking down the best pop is hard work, you can easily be disappointed when you queue up your downloads at night, and wake up with a hard drive full of moaning indie mingers kvetching in a language you don't understand-and no, I'm not just referring to Coldplay and those who sing exclusively in the language of platitude and empty emotion.
DAVID BISBAL - Buleria (Spain, #3)
Yet another one of those delightful Eurodance tracks that takes little bits of other continental niceties, puts them into a blender and makes it dangerously catchy. Oh sure, on the surface it's Latin pop par excellence, but there's more than a tip of the hat to cheesy house and maybe a bit to disco, and the whole exercise is much more frantic than any Latin crossover hit of the last few years. Also, gains points for a vaguely Boney-M-esque bit in the middle, and lovely "ay ay ay" bit toward the end and dead nice brass. It's the type of song that makes me wish I were a really good dancer because shaking oneself to this would make one look really smooth.
CAPAREZZA - Fuori Dal Tunnel (Italy, #9)
Included despite being a few weeks old because Dom Passantino and I both think that everyone in the whole universe should learn to love Caparezza. He's an Italian rapper. I don't understand a word of what he says, but judging by his voice, it's deeply offensive, very funny and exhaustive in its technical perfection. He has flow. Or whatever term the real writers are using for the people that make their words go together well. This track is cut from a completely different template than almost any other rap I've ever heard-the production is incredibly meticulous and tight, sounding almost alien to a brain dulled by the ever-decreasing returns of The Neptunes and Timbaland. I wonder if he looks like a scary clown based on the whimsical, carnivalesque music and his barking, psychotic yelping all over the thing. Here's hoping so.
EDGUY - King Of Fools (Germany, #39)
One assumes that this is supposed to be metal, but it comes across as being delightfully pop. From the symphonic synth intro leading into the verses (which actually sounds like the intro music to a late-80s shoot-em-up arcade game, to be fair) to the big fuck-off riffs to the massive, massive chorus. Oh yes. No, it does not sound like the Darkness, not even remotely-the connection to 80s hair metal is far stronger, but the hooks are huge, the singalong bits are magnificent and this basically stomps all around the place making an enormous racket, leaving me enormously happy, gurgling like a lobotomised monkey. "We don't wanna be like you! We don't follow King of Fools!" Yeah! Rebellion! Or something, but I KNOW I haven't felt like this since Twisted Sister so this is, by default smashing stuff.
SURFEROSA - Saturday Night (Norway, #9)
This lot are possibly my new favourite band. Cheap keyboards, scratchy punk ethos but with very, very pop songwriting nous, and a singer... oh would that I had the effort to look up her name. Having heard her do a few songs, it's obvious she's just as comfortable belting out a pop monster or a rock juggernaut and would sound just fantastic over a hyper-fast, cheesy J-Pop backing too (in fact, she's almost tried her hand at a few of these things on Surferosa's last album). This one's not that manic, but it's got a gloriously 80s power pop feel to it- cheap, danceable and cheery-with some deliriously addictive "uh-uh-UH!" at increasing volume and pitch just at the end, while treated guitars crunch menacingly below.
THE MO - Nostalgia Locomotive (Sweden, #33)
This seems to have been out for a while, but I'm only now hearing it. Probably the oddest thing in any chart at the moment-it's got a lovely ascending/descending piano line and a bloke who sounds a bit like Robbie Williams but rather much less punchable, sounding all lamenting. But that's all before a yelping woman who thinks she might be as kooky as Kate Bush jumps in and intones the chorus, strangling the life out of every word in it "Here comes the choo-choo! Come on! The nos-tal-geeeaaa locomotive gives you a hell of a ride!" comes in. It's all a bit kooky, odd and far too strange to imagine this being a hit. But a hit it was in Sweden, bless.
DANZEL - Pump It Up (Belgium, #18)
Belgian dance music. This one is a pretty hefty house thing with a rather pointlessly long breakdown that serves no purpose whatsoever but to remind you of how massive it sounds when it gets into full flight-which is pretty bizarre because it's fairly sparse as silly club-fillers go. Slightly distracting is the suite of crowd sounds, but as daft dance mantras go "Don't you know / Pump it up / You've got to pump it up" is somewhere very high on the list, and the reluctance to say anything but that for the most part, or do anything bar jump around for nearly six minutes is pretty admirable. Of course, that doesn't mention the chunky, throbbing bass, but you probably hate Belgian pop anyway.
BOSSON - A Little More Time (Sweden, #29)
This guy is certainly no stranger to a daft Eurodance stormer, luckily. But this is yet another one of those dance singles that are influenced a bit by synth-rock and pop-dense sounds and treated vocals. There's 80s synthpop somewhere in the lineage of the vocals, but with some ridiculous high bits that make you think of more modern flamboyant pop, maybe Daft Punk sans vocoders. Add to this the busy blurps in the verses that sound fantastic, an overblown show=offy bit at the start, a lovely doo-doo-doo outro, some bits that sound like they were recorded underwater and the vocals that sound like they were recorded in a vacuum and you have yourself a hit. There's a genuine feeling of unhingedness on this-all the parts don't really go together, but it all works.
TREBLE - Ramaganana (Netherlands, #1)
Again, a very strange thing indeed. It sounds a bit African folk influenced-maybe it's an Iko Iko for the 90s, repetitive as anything else, but nagging, and the phrasing and folky vocalising are both absolutely exquisite. The backing is part world, part pitch-shifted sped-up 70s AM radio, but the icing on the cake comes in the form of big crashing drums at important moments, a lovely little bit of guitar and the busy, meaningless syllables coming thick and fast. This sort of thing won't be done well again for years, but it's sounding alien and beautiful today.
By: Edward Oculicz
Published on: 2004-02-26