The Singles Jukebox
A Coupon For A Free Margarita



week fifteen finds technical issues delaying us somewhat, but never mind, because this week we get the delights of Bobby Valentino, Judge Jules, Erasure, Hard-Fi, (the) Juan MacLean, MIA, the Stereophonics and so many more losing to the best song the Jukebox has covered so far. In the section editor’s opinion, anyhow. Hem. First, though, your section editor used to find entertaining the prospect of the bloke out of D12 that rapped really, really slowly having a solo career. Your section editor is a fool.


Bizarre – Rockstar
[1.75]


Jessica Popper: Is this supposed to be funny? 'Cos it's really not.
[0]

Cecily Nowell-Smith: It's funny how D-12 singles sound like poor imitations of average Eminem-in-jokey-mood singles, and "Rockstar" sounds like the most half-arsed D-12 single yet.
[2]

Joe Macare: You can't say that Eminem treats his second-stringer, third-rate rapper mates in D12 badly, can you? Here he has kindly donated a third-rate take on the kind of the beat he now always uses for the first single of his albums, which was already tired by the time of 'My Band', let alone 'Just Lose It'. Bizarre rises to the challenge and provides rhymes which are equally third-rate, complete with “where have I heard this before?” jokes about not answering Dr Dre's calls. Snoozior.
[3]

Edward Oculicz: A fantastic, burbling, booty-shaking bassline wasted by the most limp, boring rap imaginable. Oh, and that chorus - "I'm a rockstar" - no you're not, plus as if that's worth aspiring to. In fact, irritating, repetitive choruses are pretty much de rigeur for rock nowadays, maybe you are.... Not as good as "Rock Superstar" by Cypress Hill, don't try again.
[0]

Alex Macpherson: Fat men shouldn't be allowed to make records.
[0]


Stereophonics – Superman
[2.89]


Cecily Nowell-Smith: In which Kelly Jones et al continue what "Dakota" started by not sounding like 'classic', brain-numbingly dull retro-whinge Stereophonics at all, but instead stealing something from Queens of the Stone Age. Which is exciting! Or would be, if this weren't rubbish.
[3]

Alex Macpherson: I'm a little stunned that this isn't the worst of our lot this week, though even this bunch of cunts would be hard pressed to outdo Bizarre and Gavin DeGraw in that respect. It's still dreadful, of course, but after nearly a decade of putting up with Stereophonics my ears have thankfully begun to take pre-emptive action; they shut down the minute these opening chords oozed out from my speakers the second time and spared me a repeat of the horror of Kelly Jones attempting a sexually charged falsetto.
[1]

Joe Macare: I must admit I'm mildly fascinated by the way in which the Stereophonics have tried to reinvent themselves with their latest album. Mainly because it's hard to shake the suspicion that Kelly Jones looked in the mirror one day and thought “Christ, me and my band are widely despised, and they're not wrong!”. Then, like the Michael Jackson song says, he asked himself to change his ways. And his hair. And his music. Remarkably, he and his band have arguably succeeded – last single 'Dakota' has people all over the place saying “seriously, it's not bad at all!”, and this, while it still bears some hallmarks of ye badde Stereophonics of olde, is infinitely better than something like 'Mr Writer'. At least they're trying to be someone good, like Curtis Mayfield, instead of whatever the hell they thought they were aspiring to when they made that dirge.
[6]

Doug Robertson: Proving that their slightly-better-than-expected-but- still-a-bit-rubbish-when-compared-to-virtually-every-song-ever-written single ‘Dakota’ was nothing more than a fluke, Kelly returns with the usual turgid nonsense that we’ve come to expect from his Welsh band of serial tune avoiders. I can only recommend that you do something similar.
[1]

Edward Oculicz: In which Kelly Jones decides not to release one of the other half-decent songs off the album, presumably because the existence of one better-than-awful Stereophonics single in 2005 caused the world to spin off its axis quite enough without doing any more damage. This is, at least, a different kind of rubbish to which they normally peddle, but being as it is lumpen, leaden rawk nonsense, it's about the worst kind they could have served up, particularly after the sublime "Dakota".
[1]


Michael Woods and Judge Jules – So Special
[3.43]


Edward Oculicz: The only thing wrong with Ultrabeat was, apparently, that they didn't have enough BPM. This makes me feel like a very, very old man, even though I'm only 23.
[0]

Mike Atkinson: Was there any manual human input in this at all, or did they just activate the randomiser on the trancebot?
[2]

Alex Macpherson: Judge Jules is so called because he was a law student, you know. Twat. 'So Special' sees the dance dinosaur's determined refusal to change a winning sound continue apace - from the cheap cascading synth break to the disinterested diva vocals, you've heard it all before. And these days, the immediate association is with the gym, not the dancefloor.
[6]

Joe Macare: I can't really claim to understand trance: it's a lot like quantum physics, in that I respect it as a science, and appreciate why people might be interested in it, and perhaps even slightly envy those who are able to fully comprehend it, but somehow it all whizzes right over my head. Anyway, in my limited layman's understanding, this could have been released any time in the last ten years. In fact it quite possibly was.
[5]

Mike Barthel: This makes me want to shop.
[3]


Gavin DeGraw – I Don’t Want To Be
[3.78]


Joe Macare: Some say that you can't or shouldn't judge a musician by their appearance. But take a look at the photograph of Gavin DeGraw which is no doubt just above this particular batch of reviews, readers, and tell me he is not the perfect picture of soft rock mediocrity.
[3]

Mike Barthel: There are some songs where my criteria is, "How would I feel if someone came up to me at a middle-school dance and requested this?" This straddles the line--I respect the youngsters' need for uninterrupted selfhood, but the groove is boring and the whole vibe is a bit more self-righteous than I like my pop. You really only want to be what you already are? But what about striving? What about dreams and hope and all that stuff? Either you're deluded or you're lying, and we're well familiar with your stance on lying. At least the chorus is good.
[4]

Jessica Popper: I love Gavin Degraw. He's not just another boy with a guitar - he plays piano too! OK, so maybe he's not the most original idea for a pop star, but of his genre he is the very best. His album is full of great songs, including this one.
[10]

Alex Macpherson: Overblown, insufferable soft rock, without even the kitsch factor of Bryan Adams - or, come to that, the tune which takes up residence in your head whether you want it to or not. DeGraw skirts around committing to a hook while snarling queasily and nasally over guitar sludge and the most awful, clunking piano chords imaginable. This was on the One Tree Hill soundtrack, apparently - this is apt! Never has paint dried so pompously before.
[0]

Doug Robertson: He doesn’t want to be, I don’t want him to be either, surely we can come to some sort of arrangement?
[2]


Armand Van Helden – Into Your Eyes
[5.38]


Jessica Popper: This isn't as good as Hear My Name or My My My, but it's perfectly enjoyable. However, I don't really think nearly 8 minutes of a song this repetitive are quite necessary. Why is it always the repetitive dance songs that seem to need to be so very long?
[6]

Doug Robertson: The world has moved on, but Armand van Helden hasn’t, seeming to be holding firm to the belief that it’s still the late nineties, it even includes some bloody ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ style deet-deet bits. It’s an OK track, but it’s nothing new, nothing special, and certainly nothing that would convince you that Armand has put in any more effort than going to the drawer marked “unreleased recordings 1997-99” and pulling out the first tape that came to hand.
[5]

Alex Macpherson: See, this is how you deal with being a former important cutting edge trendy dance maestro who's now getting on a bit. Aim squarely at the lowest common denominator of binge-drinking, semi-clad provincial English boys and girls spilling out of Ibiza bars to puke in the streets with a banging track so simple that you can knock it off in your sleep - thus freeing up more time for you to party with Playboy bunnies. But here's the thing: make it so joyful, so sun-kissed and so catchy that everyone who hears it wants to stumble into the nearest tourist resort, down jugs of ineptly mixed mai tais and end the night at a foam party with their tits out.
[8]

Edward Oculicz: Making normally hugely-enjoyable rock anthemics a chore to listen to - there's an art. Tolerating this means your favourite 80s anthem could be next.
[3]

Mike Barthel: I've been made to feel guilty about liking that Armand Van Helden album with the gun on the cover, especially the "Cars" cut-up. I'm starting to feel better about it, but this song, with no sonics for the first 2 minutes and a melody that recalls "Two Tickets to Paradise," isn't helping matters. It should be dramatic and awesome when the bass kicks in, but it's just a small relief that you don't have to subject yourself to quite so much of that painful filter. Thankfully, it gets a lot better right after that, and not just because a guitar comes in, but because he starts to fuck with the vocals and the drums get considerably more interesting (if only because they're so exposed). But then it starts to suck again, and then the song finishes. Pop song, Armand! Pop song!
[5]


Hard-Fi – Hard To Beat
[5.56]


Alex Macpherson: A pleasant surprise by Britrock's standards, what with vocals which don't hurt my head and a somewhat decent melody. The operative phrase is, however, "by Britrock's standards", which means that in the wider context this is just bog-standard indie mediocrity rather than the worst music ever.
[4]

Doug Robertson: This sounds naggingly familiar, though I can’t put my finger on why. Anyway, it lacks the pressing urgency of last single, ‘Tied Up Too Tight’, instead meandering along as if it’s got 5 minutes to kill on a boring Tuesday lunch break. It passes the time, but playing with a yo-yo does that too, and if you do a couple of tricks, it’s probably more impressive.
[5]

Paul Scott: So the lumbering British retro rock bandwagon finally veers out of the seventies and finds itself at the dawn of New Pop. Sure, there’s still the jerky rhythmic punk funk hangover, but the vocals have a certain suaveness, synthesised horns and keyboards are added to the brew, and most importantly there is a sense of gold lamé melodrama underscoring the grime. So studied is the blend by the end it sounds like an indie band imitating Daft Punk imitating ’80s pop. Which is all rather fun, but the sooner we can get over this current obsession with one period of pop history the better. ’78 - ’84 seems to be fast becoming the new ’66 - ’70; an untouchable musical “golden age” for a new generation of rose tinted nostalgics and slavish imitators.
[7]

Edward Oculicz: Agreeably boomy and bassy, good rhythmic dynamics, and you might worry for a bit that they've forgotten to write a chorus, but lo, they have, and even though the shrieking is rubbish, it still kind of works and there's a bit of a rock-disco shuffle that leans enough to the former to not seem really boring and played. A bit on the long side, though, but this sounds like what I imagined Doves would sound like before I actually heard them, so tentative thumbs-up.
[7]

Mike Barthel: I've already complained about these fuckers once, and they're still around? Christ. Let's just see how many sins we can find: two-and-a-half chord guitar hook could be developed into something interesting, but the bass is content to wander around the tonic a bit, the drums shuffle like shaeffel but only the kick makes you want to move, the vocals would be better off as a guitar melody, and the whole thing drifts across your speakers like a storm front. Blech.
[2]


Erasure – Here I Go Impossible Again
[5.63]


Paul Scott: Two men and a soft synth go in search for a memorable hook, memorable hook rears head momentarily then scurries away, chance of satisfying synth pop tune remains tantalizingly close out of reach, everyone leaves slightly disappointed.
[4]

Mike Barthel: I will listen to any song with this kind of bassline, but Erasure make it really hard with that chorus melody. You don't get to sound like this unless your single comes with a coupon for a free margarita.
[4]

Alex Macpherson: Weak and feeble exercise in seeing just how far a career can be extended against all probability, rather like an elastic band which will hopefully snap back with force very soon.
[2]

Doug Robertson: It’s the love theme from a cheap animated movie! No doubt involving anthropomorphised mice who are doing something against the odds. although as mice doing anything other than eating cheese, having babies and occasionally dying in a mouse trap is pretty much against the odds, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a good film. Similarly, despite this being Erasure trying their hand at a big, epic ballad, it’s not necessarily going to be a bad thing. It’s not brilliant, and genuine emotional stirring seems to be way down the agenda, but it is still rather lovely in an understated sort of way, so it’s all good.
[7]

Jessica Popper: I like this and Erasure in general, but there are a few slightly frightening moments before and in the chorus where he sounds just like Ronan Keating. Radio 2 must love this!
[7]


Bobby Valentino – Slow Down
[5.86]


Doug Robertson: If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s no laughing matter, this could be held up as a great example of a parody of the smooth talking R&B genre. Dull, lifeless and about as sexy as the accident and emergency ward of your local hospital, this may well be this week’s most inessential record, and in a week that includes the Stereophonics, that’s no mean feat.
[1]

Cecily Nowell-Smith: Oozing sleaze like a leaking bottle of hair oil, this one. The beat's great, lazily thunking away, but drowned in syrupy strings and smarmy harp. As for the lyrics - you know, if any man ever spoke like this to me? It would take a thousand showers for me to feel clean again.
[4]

Alex Macpherson: R&B produces so many mediocre slow jams that it's easy to forget just how heart-stoppingly perfect they can be: how they turn fleeting glimpses and minuscule details into the most romantic, timeless evocations of love; how they capture feelings which might last one second or one lifetime, but at that single moment are coherent and pure. The string sample cribbed from somewhere or other and the gorgeously hesistant beat tripping over itself are fantastic, but it's the line about "a butterfly tattoo right above your navel" which gets me every single fucking time.
[10]

Mike Barthel: People keep trying to bring me around to baby-makin' music, but this is one I could get behind (so to speak). Like a nice warm bath, it comes on the radio and you just feel better about whatever's going on. It's air conditioning on the cheap, is what it is. Maybe the slow-food movement could adopt this as their theme song or something. I'd feel a lot better waiting for my lunch if this was playing.
[8]

Joe Macare: Male vocal r&b is still generally lagging behind what the girls can do, but Bobby Valentino might be able to help change that. 'Slow Down' has 100% lush production, complete with magic carpet 'whooshing' sounds, tinkling harps, and a general air of hot summer nights sipping rum cocktails. The video for this song is confusing in that you see Ludacris talking to Bobby on the phone at the start, but then he doesn't appear later on to drop a guest verse. Just for once, this isn't a bad thing.
[8]


Ladytron – Sugar
[6.63]


Doug Robertson: Sounding more like they do live, i.e. a bit grimier and dirtier than the clean lines of their previous releases, Ladytron come up trumps with this track which is less like the sweetness of sugar, more like the acrid black smoke that can be found if you burn the stuff.
[7]

Edward Oculicz: They've gone rock! Kind of, except they've kept the thudding, throbbing pace of their previous work and basically sound for all the world like a more stripped-down, popped-up Curve with an extra serving of blistering, ear-piercing hooks. In other words, fantastic.
[9]

Joe Macare: I don't really approve of Ladytron's move towards a more rock sound. Mind you, 'Seventeen' was their most boring release to date at the time it came out, and the album Light And Magic still held plenty of delights, so it's not like I'm giving up on them. But this is very average. Not that I'd tell that to their pretty, pretty faces.
[7]

Alex Macpherson: Hi, we're Ladytron. We make slightly detached, slightly cynical, very repetitive electro-pop songs. We don't change. We perfected the formula a couple of years ago on a song called 'Seventeen', but we're still too young to retire so we may as well continue as if that never happened. If you liked us before, you probably won't mind us now, though you may well have moved on and not really care either way given that we only ever appealed to hipsters anyway. You won't miss out either way.
[6]


The Juan MacLean – Tito’s Way
[6.63]


Doug Robertson: While the real Ladytron may be adding a bit of dirt to their workings, Juan Maclean seems to be standing at the side of the mudpool, hoping that they don’t get their nicely polished shoes splashed. Much cleaner electrobeats are on evidence here, though the heavily processed vocals add a guilty smear to it’s otherwise gleaming window. Good stuff.
[7]

Edward Oculicz: Minimal, funky bleepathon that sounds like what Daft Punk probably wish their last album sounded like. Texturally and sonically this is so good that even the fact that on the melodic hand, it's uninspired, repetitive absolutely dull as dishwater doesn't stop this being hugely enjoyable. It's all in the drum fills and the infectious, farting bass squalls.
[8]

Mike Barthel: "The" Juan Maclean have always reminded me of that friend-of-a-friend who the friend is inexplicably fond of and brings everywhere, even though said acquaintance is almost indescribably annoying in most social situations. JMC are the DFA's annoying friend, and much as such a situation can spoil you on an otherwise lovely friendship, so does the DFA's insistence on foisting these tracks on their fans at any opportunity make me like them less. There's nothing going on I wouldn't avoid in an opening act in a Williamsburg club--adequate drumming, uninteresting synth noises, and bored vocals attempting to excuse a paucity of talent. No groove, no melody, no drive. Just not very good.
[2]

Mike Atkinson: And I'm normally such a sucker for trendy shite.
[5]

Joe Macare: I set myself the challenge of not using the word “robot” in this review, but that's a bit like when someone tells you not to think about elephants and all you can think of is elephants, elephants, elephants. 'Tito's Way' isn't as immediate as some of DFA productions (like, say, 'Give Me Every Little Thing', the last Juan Maclean single), although it has several of the key trademarks: utterly fantastic percussion sounds, big fat squelchy synths, and just a general level of attention to detail that makes lots of little parts add up to a wonderful whole. I suspect Tito may know Vitalic's friend Dario, although Tito is a bit more mellow and less fond of crashing cars while drunk. But I'm sure they're both robots. Robots, robots, robots.
[9]


M.I.A. – Bucky Done Gun
[8.13]


Mike Barthel: Of all the possible singles from this album, why "Bucky"? Just for the cred? To justify the sample clearance cost? Because as a song, it's just not single-worthy. Noisy in an uninteresting way and nonsensical like whatever the opposite of "Surfin' Bird" is. Sexy, sure, but the fact that I can't think of this without hearing my own remix is less a testament to my own self-centeredness and more a fatal flaw in the backing track, which does nothing worth speaking of beside the horns. If I can get anything I want for ten dollar, please release that as a single next instead.
[6]

Edward Oculicz: Hype machine Blah blah influential blah blah scenesters blah blah important but also on this occasion a really pretty infectious tune with lots of nagging hooks proving that internet hipsters, much like the thousand monkeys and the broken clock, occasionally get it right.
[8]

Alex Macpherson: A sonic BOOM, even more so than anything else on M.I.A.'s album, so exuberant and uninhibited that it flattens all resistance. Here, M.I.A.'s magpie pop flies over Brazilian baile funk and picks out the shiny bits: the cut-up beats, the vocals which rely less on melody than on rhythm, phrasing and catchphrasing to embed themselves in your head, the incongruous sample from first world pop culture (Rocky fanfares, in this case). The sonic tension between the deliberate, the studied (the stunning stutter-vocal effect on "sugar salt") and the amateur (the stop-start structure, rewinding to past killer lines every time the song's in danger of winding down) is incredibly effective, and when I say effective, I mean it in the dancing context.
[10]

Joe Macare: Haters, quieten down. Let's forget the yawncore debate about authenticity and “radical chic” and whether M.I.A. steals bread out of the hands of starving Brazilian street kids, and concentrate on the music, which is burst after burst of energy flash, an invitation to fight, fuck or just dance that goes off in your face like an unsafe firework and doesn't stop blasting. Worth 10 out of 10 if only for the stuttering “da-da, da-da-da-da” bit. Worth another 10 for the “fight you in your comforter, filth with the fury, uh” bit. Get in the ring, motherfuckers.
[10]

Cecily Nowell-Smith: Are we supposed to be bored of MIA by now? I'm not; the fanfare in this hits and it's stupidly exhilarating, anticipatory, MIA snarling up her vowels over a tinny beat and chinky bongos, "get cracking, get- get cracking" and you know, you know you should. Though surely she should be shouting-out to Brasilia and not the whole of Brazil.
[8]


Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – Come Up And See Me (30th Anniversary Edition)
[8.50]


Alex Macpherson: It's 2am and I fly to Barcelona in a few hours; I have yet to pack, or indeed find my rucksack. But there's time to dance around the room to this one more time, surely? It's one of the best songs ever written, for one thing. Listing all of its supremely glorious Great Moments would be a massive undertaking: there's one in every bar, chord change after false stop after mmm-ba-ba-ba after turn of phrase which just squeezes your heart tight like an old friend who'll never let you down.
[10]

Edward Oculicz: That ascending guitar at the start - well, you're sold as soon as you hear them, even if it is the millionth time. Every babababa and lalalala and oooooh in the backing vocals just hammers the point home - some classics just can't be argued with. And that's without even getting into the chorus - 30 years haven't dulled its ability to brighten your day for four minutes one speck.
[10]

Joe Macare: It feels quite strange to be asked to score and review such a staple of the pub jukebox. Maybe the easiest way to do this is to talk about the song in exactly those terms. Okay then: not in your choice of first five choices if it's a particularly good pub jukebox, but always handy to have as a back-up option just in case either a) the jukebox is actually rubbish and your selection is limited, or b) you end up putting about five pounds into the jukebox as your drunkenness increases, and towards the end of the evening you really feel the need to sing along to something that goes “ooooh... shalala”. Much like Brian Ferry circa early Roxy Music, there's something just odd enough about Steve Harley's intonation to help this stand up to repeated listens. It's always sounded innocently filthy to these ears as well, if that's not a contradiction in terms.
[9]

Mike Barthel: This is the kind of stuff that trips up pop's opponents, because I have no idea what's going on, even though it would seem to be blatantly obvious, and presumably is to anyone who's more familiar with the British motorway system than myself. Pop is so contextual, even if it doesn't seem so; the context is just open to anyone rather than intentionally closed-off. Theoretically I could figure out why this mélange of acoustic guitar, synth-strings, and jaunty tambourine playing sounds so normal despite it not sounding like anything within my frame of reference, really, and then maybe I could figure out if I liked it. But, luckily, there are about 27 choruses here, so that gives me enough time. And indeed I do!
[7]

Doug Robertson: A few weeks ago I described Coldplay as “your Dad’s favourite band”, but when it comes down to it, my Dad’s favourite band are this lot and, as Father’s Day has just been and gone, I feel I owe it to him to give this a good review. Of course, even without that paternal prod, this would still be getting the thumbs up as it’s quite simply a fantastic tune and, despite this being 30 years on from it’s original release – and despite this being the 4th time it’s been re-issued, for that matter – this still sounds fresher than most of the tracks being released this week. The stop/start nature of the song, the “Dah-yime” nature of the vocals, the “ba-ba-ba-ba” bits, it all comes together to form a glorious whole. Steve Harley, we salute you.
[9]


By: UK Stylus Staff
Published on: 2005-06-21
Comments (5)
 

 
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