The Singles Jukebox
A Winsome But Completely Precious Amalgalm



hello, and welcome to the first edition of Stylus’ Big Shiny Jukebox! Remember the UK Singles Jukebox? Remember the US Singles Jukebox? Well, imagine them thrown together, and then throw in some stuff from other countries as well, and this is kind of what you get. Each week we’ll be covering 15 singles that are currently making waves of some kind from around the world, and our elite panel of singles reviewers will then attempt to explain why they’re worth caring about. Or not.

Anyway, this being January and as such traditionally the quietest month of the year for singles, you’d think our opening line-up might be a bit mediocre—but how wrong you would be! Belle & Sebastian, Beyonce, Ashlee Simpson, Twista, the Arctic Monkeys, Sway, The Veronicas, and Jose “The Guy That Does That Song Off The Advert With The Balls Bouncing Down The Hill” Gonzalez all await our eyes and ears, but we kick off with a man who, in some respect, must be amongst the biggest rock stars in the world. We have yet to think of what that respect might be, but, y’know. Whaugh-haugh yay-yay-uhhhh. Etc.


Richard Ashcroft – Break The Night With Colour
[4.05]


Mike Powell: Yeh and then I took a walk on the beach an it was real pretty and I thought about stuff and fer a second I felt sorta bad and missed my mum you know? But I put on my sunglasses and went back home an I called Richie and we tied one on pretty okay but then I got home and felt sorta bad for myself again, you know?
[3]

Peter Parrish: You are a BBC producer. Having just shown Leicester City come back from two goals down against Tottenham to win 3-2 with a last-gasp winner, you need to construct a montage to run over the end titles. Maybe you’ll opt for something to reflect the heroic nature of the performance or perhaps choose to cleverly play on Leicester’s ‘foxes’ nickname? Alas, not in real life. In real life, viewers were treated to slow-mo replay tedium and Richard bloody Ashcroft sucking all the colour from our screens like some terrible, monstrous leech. All the drama of football, all the romance of the cup--thrown away in an instant by some BBC employee with fond memories of The Verve. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
[4]

Fergal O’Reilly: I liked the Verve as a youth. It must have had something to do with Ashcroft, surely—it couldn't have been all echoing guitar noises and well chosen string samples—but on the evidence of his wretched solo career it's hard to remember what his appeal was. This resembles "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" at points, only slowed down to an even more MOR/Q Magazine sort of plod. It seems safe to assume there is no further hope of a Stunning Return To Form or any of that shit.
[3]

Andries Provoost: No, I wouldn’t have guessed either I’d be giving out top marks to the simian who acted a right pillock on the Live 8 stage next to Coldplay over summer, but despite the sometimes obnoxiously opaque lyrics and the oft-weedy vocals this does tug the strings of my heart (which, for the record, have been officially cleared and did not sample the Stones in the first place).
[10]

Patrick McNally: A.O.Arse of the worst kind. Never has there walked upon this earth a man with a greater gap between his view of himself and the brute, pitiful reality. Ashcroft is almost infinitely layable into, but what’s the point because no-one, not even the staunchest Verve fanboy, believes in him anymore, although I’m sure that this just steels his resolve and seemingly limitless self-belief. I could never have anything less than contempt for anyone who has been on as many records as he has but has never even thought about cracking a joke or trying to be witty.
[1]

Jessica Popper: There's one word in this song (the "ti-ime" in the last line of the chorus, to be precise) which for some reason reminds me of the Backstreet Boys, so since then I've been imagining them singing this song and it's little surprise that I've come to really like it. I've never been a fan of anything the man has done before, but this is so clearly a boyband ballad disguised as indie, how can I not score it highly!
[7]


Notorious BIG ft. Nelly, Diddy, Jagged Edge etc. – Nasty Girl
[4.17]


Brad Shoup: Was Christopher ahead of his time, or did he discover some evolutionary plateau? Just cos Jazzy Phizzle says "ladies and gentlemen" doesn't make this track grown and sexy, and just because we've heard Biggie's verse before (and Combs', too, but for a different reason entirely) doesn't mean it's ok to buy this again. Melle Mel broke his sacroiliac for TVs in cars.
[6]

Dom Passantino: If I get ol' Violetta Wallace on the blower, and offer to stump up, say, $5,000 to exhume her son's corpse, dress it in a French maid's outfit, and reverse cowgirl it live on national TV, do you think she'll give it the thumbs up? It’s probably a more suitable way to sustain the legacy of the possible GOAT than by getting Jagged Edge to wreak irrelevancy over some of Chubby Cheeks' finest work. Nelly and Diddy presumably literally did clock off after recording their vocals, such is their obvious boredom and motiviation for the track, and, y'know, can we stop this before Biggie's next venture is eight bars tacked onto the end of the next Katherine Jenkins single?
[0]

Martin Skidmore: Shockingly, they seem to be scraping the barrel by this point. It's smooth enough, with a pleasantly light disco feel to the backing (it sounds like an '80s record), and they throw a few big name guests at it, but it's terribly flimsy and run of the mill. Also, if it has any appeal I'd have thought it was very much a summer sound, so I don't know why I am reviewing it in January. Perhaps they're holding back a big Christmas number for July.
[5]

Mike Barthel: I know, I know, this is an embarrassing cash-in, five nails beyond the last one in his oversized coffin, but shit, that beat's really good. Nelly sings the hook (yoinks), but damn...it's a hell of a groove. I've got nothing else. Aside from the fact that there's a Biggie verse, but that'll probably throw you off. It could be worse, right? Oh, shut up and dance.
[7]

Hillary Brown: The formula for vaguely drunk lazy sex jams hasn’t been diagrammed yet. This does meet one criterion (numerous iterations of the word “titties”), but does not end up in the optimum point on the curve that graphs entertaining profanity against laid-back-ity.
[4]

Justin Cober-Lake: An incredibly nonsensical chorus, but the songs captures the aura of Biggie on a yacht. Good for some nostalgia, but I'm not sure how I missed that moment when tittie-grabbing replaced the casual head-nod as an assertion of agreement.
[4]


Arctic Monkeys – When The Sun Goes Down
[4.22]


Mike Atkinson: Yeah well I wouldn’t expect a bunch of smartarse Heard It All Before Darling clapped-out soft-as-shite arty-farty PONCES to understand the TOTAL FOOKIN KICK-ARSE GENIUS of the UK’s BRIGHTEST HOPE IN YEARS blah blah authentic sound of the streets blah blah telling it like it is in Tony B.Liar’s Nightmare Britain blah blah we don’t need no fat cat record labels blah blah the kidz are all-REET etc etc (cont’d next week’s NME, pages 1-94). Oh, look here. Spontaneous grassroots movement or tightly orchestrated conspiracy: I really, truly couldn’t give a shit. At least, not when the end product is as powerful and as pure as this raw-as-fuck kitchen-sink mini-drama, spinning its tale of a Sheffield prostitute and her leery “scumbag don’t you know” punter to maximum effect. Because when all is said and done, some young UK guitar bands have just Got It, and not having to sit down and analyse WHY they’ve got it is all part and parcel of their appeal.
[7]

Martin Skidmore: Starts off with some rubbish busking (complete with a Police reference that made me literally cringe), then it goes into the slick neo-punk that made them a meteoric success, but it's a bit hamfisted and there is a tune shortage, just a kind of shouty sloganish chorus, which might suit its audience—I wouldn't really know. It feels underwritten, underdeveloped, to me, but it bounces past breezily enough and I didn't mind it. I just get dispirited that the least bad of the recent guitar bands are those who seem to take their inspiration from fifth-raters like Sham 69 (addendum: I just read Ian Penman saying the same thing, but citing the Ruts and Members), and generate so little excitement.
[4]

Joe Macare: What a shame—I quite liked 'I Bet That You Look Good On Teh Dancefloor', despite all the indications that The Arctic Monkeys were set to become the next great overhyped . But on this evidence, it appears that many of the terrible, terrible things some people say about "the Monkeys" are true. 'When The Sun Goes Down' sees The Arctic Monkeys trying their hand at gritty social comment: a prostitute's lot is sometimes not a happy one, apparently, and pimps are often "scumbags". While the end result isn't quite as unambiguously hateful in its politics as the Kaiser Chiefs, it still causes symptoms including spasmodic cringes, painful headaches, and mild nausea.
[0]

Edward Oculicz: The Arctic Monkeys are a good little rock band, and are much hated by hipsters because the Monkeys' fans actually buy their records causing them to have the success that MIA isn't having. Okay, the rhymes fall incredibly flat, but there's a devil-may-care glint in their eyes and in the sharp hooks and riffs, and the speed with which they blast through everything suggests that they're interested in fun and do a pretty good job of causing it. The spasmodic, quick-fire bass line in this is charging in the choruses, and queasy in the verses, the accent's adorable and the whole thing's very nicely done indeed.
[8]

Patrick McNally: The “most influential band of their generation” (© Conor McNicholas) bring more bathetic sub-Libertines cheese vaguely livened up by the fact that on the rocking bits they sound like school kids that have been allowed to play in assembly. The singer does his one vocal melody and they talk about the tough life on the streets, which is always praiseworthy when an indie band tries it but some how depressing or of concern when UK hip-hop or grime does.

And just think of it—you share in this success just by using the internet. It’s exciting!
[2]


Lee Harding – Wasabi
[4.33]


Fergal O’Reilly: "She's like a tsunami, she could wipe out an army"—I'm not normally one of these people that thinks every minor oblique reference to a sensitive subject should be edited out of everything to avoid offending bleating "That's Not Funny, My Brother Died That Way" twats, but y'know, discussing something that killed thousands of people relatively recently with this level of jollity seems odd. Unless it's some kind of belated charity record, in which case a "you best believe tsunamis be fuckin people up, let's all give money to help the ongoing healing process" sentiment is perhaps defensible. The tune is the kind of pop-punk that overloads my brain with irritating youthful exuberance and causes it to immediately disengage like the feeble PA of a low-end music venue.
[2]

Dom Passantino: Quite literally, you've gotta keep 'em separated. Australian Pop Idol type helpfully “adapts” the parenthesised gang warfare pseudo mosh quasi-classic by The Offspring into a song about a girl who is “hot”. You know, like wasabi is. Genius. Didn't the Androids come from Australia as well? This is cut from the same cloth, only much better, possibly only in relation to “That's My Goal”, admittedly, but that's the measuring stick for this at the moment.
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: From the Australian Idol web site: “Australian Idol always seems to have a resident rocker in the finals but this year we've also added a punk: Lee Harding.” That punk (I’m not even going to bother playing the authenticity game) wants to tell us about his current fascination, which takes the form of a girl who “looks like a Barbie,” which I assume means she has undefined genitalia and stands permanently on tiptoe. She’s also “hot like Wasabi,” giving Harding a chance to add crass Eastern motifs in the form of an embarrassing faux-Asian guitar line and a gong effect so pathetic it could make a Casio keyboard sound like Pro Tools. Wasabi is actually a good title for this song: both the food and the track are deeply unpleasant and the existence of either is of questionable necessity. Also, neither is a good accompaniment to sushi.
[0]

Justin Cober-Lake: I love that big guitar opening, but the whole rest of the song gets lost under it; he turns one basic riff and a fun run into some quality pop, but he lacks the dynamics and variance to really treat us. I'm not asking for grunge-era loud-soft play—just a little something other than decreasingly entertaining string-whacking.
[5]

Brad Shoup: This is the punk "Livin' La Vida Loca". John Oswald could plunder this good, but taken straight, it's an absolute bummer, the nadir of big-studio pop. This is punk like the bitches in OZ are punks.
[2]


Busta Rhymes – Touch It
[4.58]


Peter Parrish: If you take a sample from the worst Daft Punk single in recent memory and let that nice Mr. Rhymes ramble over it like a deranged bloke at a bus stop, success is surely guaranteed.
[3]

Fergal O’Reilly: Fitting in with this week's glut of songs that basically just slow down other songs, "Touch It" presents the Technologic Robot Woman with her batteries almost run down, while Busta slightly confusingly describes a woman touching, bringing, paying, watching, turning, leaving, stopping and finally formatting his penis while it is in her mouth. The sparse backing doesn't quite do this narrative justice, but the video must be pretty fucking out there.
[6]

Mike Barthel: Yes, it is a lovely production, but something about the obviousness of it all bugs me—the Daft Punk song it's sampled from was already really obvious (I can only assume its working title was "Future iPod ad"), and this just seems to take it to new heights of doyness. But upon closer listen, the contrast between the quiet parts and the SHOUTY parts comes to the fore, turning the "Whisper"-rip into actually a nice little thematic element: we are in the club, and when the music is quiet, I will be quiet, but when it gets louder, NOW I HAVE TO YELL. OK, that's not really a thematic element, but it isn’t just dick jokes. I guess.
[5]

Martin Skidmore: I've never been all that keen on Busta—he seemed like the one bad thing about the glorious Don't Cha, for instance. This is some sort of robocrunk reinvention, and it sounds very 2006, which makes a pleasant change this week. I like the production, stripped and strong and driving, but I'm not sure the computer-voice refrain blends well with the bragging, especially when it's sexual (an apparently analogous problem occurs with the new Beyonce: am I out of tune with something here? Probably). Still, a genuinely impressive-sounding record, and one of the very few I can imagine dancing to, or considering playing out—though perhaps early in the evening, as it doesn't quite thrill.
[8]

Joe Macare: The narrative arc of 'falling off' is such a cliche, that I resent Busta Rhymes for forcing me to say it, almost as much as I resent him releasing such a weak 'Drop It Like It's Hot'/'Wait' rip-off (with bonus weak electro stylings on the chorus, reaching towards the zeitgeist like a dying man in a desert reaching for a mirage of some water) in the first place. This is minimalism as defined thus: the amount of good things about this song are minimal.
[1]


Mark Owen – Hail Mary
[4.78]


Patrick McNally: I doubt Starsailor divided by Pavement is what anyone wants from Mark Owen.
[4]

Peter Parrish: A big welcome back to cheeky little Mark with his cheeky ferret face! Bless ‘im. In fact, that would be quite relevant given that he’s borrowing a bit of religious imagery for this cheerfully shambling jaunt. It’s your basic Catholic bingo card of love-sex-religion-guilt set to a kind of happy clappy choir rhythm. If the choir all had indie haircuts and didn’t mind singing about shagging, that is. Speaking of which, hearing chirpy, innocent Mark delighting in the awesomeness of female orgasms just seems ... wrong.
[5]

Paul Scott: Mark Owen’s thing, as it were, has always seemed to be his drippiness. That Northern emasculation familiar from Coronation Street and footballers who surprise you when they open their mouths and speak like Mickey Mouse. This is Owen at his drippiest, and the music seems to reflect his vocal stylings; anaemic, yet oddly captivating. It's all very endearing, sappy and strangely sincere nonsense bathed in a fantasy glow of Catholicism and matriarchy.
[7]

Mike Atkinson: Although, on one level, it’s kind-of admirable that Little Marky has managed to sustain a tolerably successful solo recording career over the ten year period since the demise of Take That, one really has to wonder why, with the big reunion tour only three months away, he still feels the need to bother hawking such pedestrian fare as this. The big fat cheques are as good as written, dammit! So go brush up on your dance routines, and spare us this risible, James-Blunt-sings-Coldplay, Gustav Klimt referencing turgidity!
[2]

Edward Oculicz: A slow-paced but endearing thing with crawling verses loaded with repetition and assonance, and a chorus that would be anthem-sized if it weren't so good-natured and polite. It's great, though, an uncynical, well-written love song with an amiable sway to it. The way Mark quivers and falters on his notes, as if unsure how he really feels even as the words are unambiguous, is adorable. The way he sounds as if one of his consonants is going to be completely obliterated by his speech impediment is also adorable, and on the first listen, you almost expect it to happen. When, by the final chorus, he gets up the courage to be enthusiastic, it's as if he runs out of gas and the song has to end then and there and yes, that's kind of adorable too.
[9]

Hillary Brown: I’ve been thinking of this as U2 filtered through David Bowie, meaning that it is relatively large (to the extent that a camera could totally swirl around Mr. Owen as he opens his arms wide in the theoretical video) but has been lightly smeared with glam, which eats through some of the bombast, producing a confection that is tasty beyond reason. I am as surprised as any of you that I have been singing this the whole week.
[8]


Jose Gonzalez – Heartbeats
[5.11]


Doug Robertson: The average human heartbeat is 72 beats every minute, though naturally getting involved in exciting, adrenaline boosting activities such as tiger wrestling or going for a short car journey with Lindsay Lohan will boost this rate to ridiculous levels. Listening to this soporific, maudlin slice of acoustica, however, successfully managed to lower my heartbeat to such a level that I was declared clinically dead for half an hour and woke to discover an undertaker taking my measurements for a coffin. Fortunately they stopped short of burying me alive, but at least that would have been a tad more interesting than listening to this.
[4]

Mike Barthel: This song held a pivotal place on the mix CD I listened to incessantly on the subway up to Washington Heights shortly after my sweetie moved there, and so that's what it will always remind me of, although the scenery of the time—dingy half-empty trains, wind-cracked way-uptown streets—fits the song perfectly. If the Knife's version is inseparable from dancing with another human being, this song only makes sense when alone. It's warm, but it wraps you in a memory, of lying in bed, of holding hands, emo crap like that.
[9]

Joris Gillet: I kinda like it. But for all the wrong reasons. The Nick Drakesyness of course. And the ‘let's play an electronic track on an acoustic guitar’ trick. And the way his voice sounds like he's falling asleep halfway every sentence. But I hate it mostly. Also for all the wrong reasons. Because it seems to be everybloodybody's favourite song all of sudden, especially of people who e-mail the link to that terrible television ad to all their friends or, worse, blog it.
[4]

Joe Macare: Is it as good as The Knife's version? No. But then, The Knife's version was enormous, epoch-defining, summing up your life and changing it at the same time. 'Heartbeats' is such a good song that it's hard to think of an artist who could ruin it—James Blunt maybe, possibly Katie Melua. Jose Gonzalez certainly doesn't ruin it—his version has a sort of warm intimacy, a bit like hearing your lover singing one of your favourite songs in bed, or your best friend sing one in the car. And if this isn't one of your favourite songs, then what the hell is wrong with you?
[9]

Jonathan Bradley: The best way to ruin The Knife’s “Heartbeats” would be to strip it of everything that made it great. Only a philistine would take away its squelching keyboards, its swooning, spastic vocal and its drum machine toms. Turning it into a fey acoustic ballad would be sacrilege of the sort that in the good old days people got burnt at the stake for. But, hang on; put down the matches, this is actually good. Gonzalez can’t match the Knife’s heavenly pop spasms, but instead him and his gently weeping guitar cultivate the less immediate aspects of the song: the wistful regret, the heart-tugging melody and the fact that it is so immaculately written that even if someone like Lee Harding performed it, it wouldn’t be awful. In Gonzalez’s hands, then, it is stellar.
[8]

Mike Powell: His girlfriend fights to stifle the yawns as he senselessly drags a very good song by The Knife through the endless banalities of coffeeshop confessionals and transparent melancholy. Bravo. (In case you want to punch this guy in the nose, this is him putting on his pained face; look, know.)
[3]


Ashlee Simpson – L.O.V.E.
[5.21]


Brad Shoup: In which Ashlee books a weekend at Brokeback Mountain. Worth mentioning that no line in this song has any relation to any other line, an approach that only worked for Dirt McGirt. If the bass guitar made you think of Franz Ferdinand, would you think this was the shit?
[2]

Edward Oculicz: Light-as-air pop confection, a bit like if Gwen Stefani were a big-nosed fag hag instead of a Japan-fetishist. Despite her talking about "her girls", there's no way she has any female friends, but she does a pretty good female solidarity declaration thing, and the spelt-out chorus is pure honey with cigarette-coated dry-throated Courtney-isms in the back to add texture. Brattish charm to spare and hooks everywhere.
[8]

Mike Atkinson: Hang about, wasn’t Ashlee supposed to be the “edgy” Simpson sister, all pouts and sulks and Keeping It Real’s and This Is Me’s? In which case, why has she suddenly regressed from Goth Teen to Sleepover Party Girl? I thought Ashlee’s thing was all about Evolving And Growing As An Artist, not desperately hammering the pre-teen demographic because everyone else saw through her the last time round. Frankly, if I was a pre-teen Sleepover Party Girl, I’d feel a little insulted. Anyway, by far and away the worst feature of this would-be anthem to latter-day Girl Powah is its infuriating speak-and-spell chorus, of such desperate inanity that it would disgrace the compositional skills of a four-year old. I mean, does anybody—even the girlies dumb enough to sign up for Ashlee’s Gang in the first place—really need to be prompted with the letters L and O twenty-eight times in the space of one chorus? What is this, remedial class? Educational and fun, in the same way that a Krispy Kreme is nutritional and tasty.
[1]

Justin Cober-Lake: The song's processed beyond reason, but every time one of those VH1 pop-up bubbles fires on the chorus, it coats the inside of my head with a little soap I can't get washed off.
[6]

Doug Robertson: Has Gwen Stefani been writing songs for Hilary Duff? And if so what on earth is Ashlee doing getting hold of one and releasing it herself? And why has she still not learnt how to spell her name properly? So many questions, so little interest in the answers. Who, frankly, cares? She’s finally releasing something that’s actually good, proving that, despite all the overwhelming scientific evidence against it, there does actually exist some sort of talent in the Simpson gene pool.
[7]

Andries Provoost: Her worthiest try to date, but still not quite as knowingly throwaway as I expect records by someone like her (i.e. famous for riding the coattails of a sibling who is in turn famous for, basically, being mentally unstable) to be like. In the stakes of songs spelling out their titles or parts thereof, it’s no “D.I.S.C.O.” by Ottawan or even a “Jetstream” by New Order, but it IS probably a match for Ian Brown’s “F.E.A.R.”.
[7]


The Veronicas – Everything I’m Not
[5.40]


Brad Shoup: But you are Hilary. Avril. Hellogoodbye. t.A.T.u. Ashlee. Ryan Cabrera. Skye. Michelle Branch. Fefe Dobson. Lillix. The Click Five. PCD. The null. The rote. The dead.
[1]

Peter Parrish: “Simply put, The Veronicas bear no resemblance to your standard pre-packaged teen dream.”
The Veronicas are pre-packaged as not being pre-packaged. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

“Tough and edgy”
We use guitars.

“... a sound and lyrics that rock with the sheer joy of free spirits on the prowl, ready to take over your world.”
We’re still using guitars. But we’re also very empowering. Isn’t that great how we’re so independent and empowered? We’re pretty sure no-one else was this empowered before us.

“It gets better.”
We’re twins too. How sexy is THAT?
[3]

Mike Barthel: People seem to like the heaviness of what we've heard from The Veronicas so far, but it's this power ballad that finally wins me over: the distinct strumminess of the chords in the chorus, the trip-rhythm of the melody that pushes you over and pulls you back up, even the muted heaviness of the hook, which resembles Liz Phair's "Rock Me" in all the best ways.
[9]

Edward Oculicz: I like The Veronicas better when they're all-guns blazing, kick-ass little sisters of Veruca Salt, threatening to tie you up to the bed rather than pondering their imperfection. Even as they kiss-off their beaus, they don't sound strong and poised, which seems curiously at odds with the big, blustery guitar sound, very much of the Kelly Clarkson template, which works best when the chick singer unleashes Armageddon on the idiotic bloke that DOES NOT GET IT. It's still rather good, though, because it rocks along relatively properly, and the yowling over the last chorus is dead nice, but after the righteous blast of "4 Ever", this sounds distinctly like a volume knob, or an imaginary intensity knob, has been turned down a smidge.
[8]

Andries Provoost: Dare I call this the semi-memorable single that the second Avril Lavigne album so sorely lacked? Not that this implies a terrifically good thing in my book, mind you; being marginally better than, say, “My Happy Ending” may well be a dictionary illustration of the phrase ‘faint praise’, but in a pop climate where prominently-mixed distorted guitars and would be-anthemic shouty choruses seem to be a production prerequisite (hello, Kelly Clarkson), you could end up much worse than this. As well as with, I hastily add, much better (again, hello Kelly Clarkson).
[5]

Mike Atkinson: Bloody Hell, it’s “Since U Been Gone” Part Two! Same stuttering one-note guitar figure underpinning the verse, same quiet-loud-quiet-loud dynamic, same vocal timbre, same defiant end-of-the-affair, screw-you-Jack, I-will-survive sentiment, same general Avril-does-Interpol stylings… how DARE these CHARLATANS get away with it? Possibly because “Everything I’m Not” was written and produced by Max Martin and Dr. Luke—the same team who were responsible for, er, “Since U Been Gone”. So that’s all right then? No, not really. While Clarkson’s effort felt refreshingly formula-busting, and in some sense (however artfully contrived) personally liberating for Clarkson, this merely feels like reductive I’ll-buy-me-some-of-that hackwork: re-casting last year’s smart breakthrough as this year’s dumb orthodoxy.
[2]


Cat Power – The Greatest
[5.89]


Justin Cober-Lake: She's gone to Nashville, but she's still doing what she does best, which is making musically flat songs that gain a modicum of power upon intent, focused listening and an stressed effort to identify.
[5]

Fergal O’Reilly: The constituent parts and most of the tune of "Trouble" by Coldplay, only instead of an amiably dopy British man struggling to falsetto we have Cat Power, if that is her real name, making a weird yawning noise. It may be that the things she's singing are quite heartfelt and moving but it's quite hard to actually shake off the soporific haze enough to pay proper attention to them. It'd be all well and good for a vaguely poignant nightclub-based scene halfway through the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but appears to have little other use.
[2]

Joe Macare: Is this what heroin is supposed to feel like? There's a vague sense of sadness and regret, but this is overwhelmed by the blissful lushness of it all, the way it makes you feel like you're drifting away down Moon River. Apologies if that reads as horribly trite and pretentious, but I've never been able to put into words the way the best of Chan Marshall's music makes me feel—that weird lump somewhere between my heart and my throat, that impossible tension between "turn it off, it's too much, too sad, too beautiful" and "I could listen to this song on repeat, for ever". And believe me, this is Cat Power at her best. Nothing else quite hits the same spot.
[10]

Mike Barthel: This is the part where if this was a real live jukebox jury thing Joe and I would "take it outside." ("Don't talk about me Chan like that, you!" I imagine him saying, but this is because my knowledge of the English is largely apocryphal.) "The Greatest" is slow without being pretty or heavy; it's trying to be pretty, but it just ends up being slow in every sense of the word and distressingly like Linda Ronstadt after a head injury. Oh, but then my sweetie came in the room and hugged my head and we danced a little to this, and I just can't dislike it anymore. Love is a hell of a thing.
[0]

Mike Atkinson: There’s something about the arrangement of this stately, gently regretful ballad—the strings, the little touches of tremolo twang, the overall sense of space—which puts me in mind of an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack for a David Lynch film, sometime in the early 1990s. Julee Cruise or even Chris Isaak could have performed this, positioned in front of an old-fashioned radio microphone, shimmering in gold lurex, caught by a single blue spotlight, with a backdrop of crimson velvet, on the stage of a half-empty supper club in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, this has the sort of elegantly classy soulfulness which I hadn’t previously associated with Cat Power, and it would be good if it found an audience beyond her customary indie-folk niche. (That KT Tunstall, she could spare a few for starters.)
[8]

Hillary Brown: Shades of “Moon River.” Cat Power usually bores the snot out of me, but this has sneaked into my heart somehow, slowness and lyrics that probably need to be listened to be damned. Also, the way that it stops when you think it will pause and pick back up is marvy.
[7]


Will Young – All Time Love
[5.94]


Martin Skidmore: Leave Right Now was one of my favourite singles of the last few years—the best pop ballad since Back For Good, for my money. This one, another ballad, is almost unbearably fragile at the start, and Will handles the varying demands extremely well—this is a terrific vocal performance by someone who seems to keep getting better, even if his material is less consistent. This doesn't have the strength or arcs of Leave Right Now, nor if I'm frank is there very much of a tune, but it's a lovely record, touching and simple and beautiful, the music as restrained and well judged as the vocal, and I like it very much.
[8]

Paul Scott: Sometimes manipulative is not a pejorative. Sometimes a string section accompanied by piano playing the most obvious of melodies and a singer in total control of their material can be as affecting as it is lacking in originality. This lays the cards on the table and dares you to not to care.
[8]

Joe Macare: Oh, Will, why so po-faced? As relentless gloomy dispirited plodding ballads go, I suppose this is a fairly decent stab at the genre... Which funnily enough is what I'd like to do, if a genre could be corporeal, and were I to have a knife. Oh, Will, why must you paddle in these Bluntian waters? (Albeit with a grand piano instead of an acoustic guitar, which I suppose makes them... Anthonian and the Johnsonian waters.) Get back out on the volleyball court or in your fighter jet, please.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: I was having no luck even remembering this after it had finished playing, so in an attempt to kick some life into the thing, I put it into a wave editor and slowed it down DJ Screw style. I am pleased to report that Will Young Screwed and Chopped actually is slightly more interesting: his gormless vocal gains a bit of depth and the strings, ironically, become less syrupy. It’s still a glum piano ballad though, so even if the single came packaged with a big white cup full of Promethazine, I wouldn’t recommend listening to it.
[2]

Patrick McNally: After “Switch It On”, which proved that he was a proper artist or maybe an improper artist or something (and I’m not being snarky here, I never heard it so I’m not quite sure what it was), Young balances the scales by releasing a classic ballad or an approximation there-of and it’s not actually too bad. I mean you know the score—tasteful strings, grand piano, tender close-miked voice and all that schmutter but it still beats Blunt or Ashcroft or Kubb with a Hulk sized fist. If that’s an achievement.
[3]

Mike Powell: A broad, white schmaltz-pop pap, but one I’ll suckle at will; Will’s androgynous voice channels tape vari-speed or John Lennon squeezing Antony’s balls with his good hand (the one he wasn’t stroking his ego with). On my belly on freshly laundered sheets with silk ribbons running across my lower back as we speak.
[7]


Beyonce ft. Slim Thug – Check On It
[6.00]


Hillary Brown: Who’s not compelled by the power of Beyonce’s hiney? Nice little lacey beat is propelled by the inherent interest of said posterior, but song would work fine too if one did not comprende the purpose.
[6]

Edward Oculicz: I wouldn't argue that Destiny's Child often leant towards essential, but unreined, Beyonce's conceit just irks—the idea that she's so good she can make anything sound good, which this insubstantial piece of rubbish is a more than sufficient counter-argument, being as it is nothing more than a showcase for all of her most annoying tendencies; her come-hither choruses wilt underneath her ego and with her needless melisma parts, a pretty dull tune and her constantly tracking over herself, there's far too much going on but the whole thing still seems insubstantial and forgettable.
[3]

Patrick McNally: Super-random and not in a ‘it’s the 21st century and everything’s up for grabs’ manner. No part of the song seems to have any real relationship to any another part of the song either horizontally or vertically. And no part of the song really seems to be a chorus either. Or not shit. It’s still notable however, for seemingly being the first single to feature a guest rap mumbled by someone in a coma state.
[4]

Martin Skidmore: The first rhyme is wanksta/gangsta, which made me all but give up hope before Beyonce even shows up. Her rather robotic, soulless vocals have always been more than fine with me, but when combined with a very mechanical tune (its schematic simplicity is at times almost nursery rhyme, or Paul McCartney, which is just as bad) we end up with no sex or eroticism in the music at all, which very much doesn't fit with the lyric, and means it doesn't take off the way it should.
[5]

Andries Provoost: Well, I have to admit “Crazy in Love” is just one of those songs that I’ve only given a genuine personal appreciation posterior to other, more musically knowledgeable, people claiming it a pop classic, but this had me boppin’ in my chair from the word go. Of course six months from now this most probably won’t sound half as good as “Crazy…” did in early 2004 (and does now), but surely that’s beside the point in an assessment of singles designed to please listeners at the present moment.
[9]

Brad Shoup: Yeah, it's another martial ass song with a Houston accessory. It's also the first great pop song of the year. The phrasing, the absolute voice control, Swizz Beats' wheezing two-key figure, the marvelous "check on it" breakdown, the Stripper Army chorus. If we could stop rappers from laughing at their own jokes ["glue 'em with glue (haha)"—take the check and screw yourself], we'd all be happier, but it's not a big deal here.
[10]


Twista ft. Pitbull – Hit The Floor
[6.06]


Dom Passantino: Busta had a go at it earlier on, and now its time for Roy Castle's old mucker Twista to celebrate National Shit Double Entendre week, with Robin Askwith level gems like “She don't like pork? I'll give her sausage”. Hilarious. Pitbull gets in on some of the shit lyrical tip with this quite frankly outstanding couplet: “I'm on a track with Twista/ So it's only right that I take my words and twist them”. The song its attached to? Perfunctory club banger that'll probably go to #3 in the US and about #237 in the UK.
[3]

Martin Skidmore: Twista's one of my favourite rappers of 'recent' years (I admit that I didn't notice him any more quickly than everyone else), and certainly one of the most technically impressive I've ever heard, with his extraordinary nimbleness at high speeds. There are all sorts of influences and elements thrown in here, most strikingly a very big reggaeton element. This is really tremendous party music, joyously exciting and raucous, and I'd have thought it has a good outside chance of clicking with a very big public in much the way Sean Paul did a while back.
[9]

Jonathan Bradley: Mr. Collipark worked hard last year, producing some of 2005’s most interesting beats and making minimalism and stripping seem like the most natural combination since Jay-Z and Beyoncé. For 2006 he must have decided to take a break, and before heading off to wherever he vacations — Cancun, Puerto Rico, Yugoslavia, Jamaica, all them fun kind of places — he left behind this hastily pasted together compilation of some of his biggest hits. The squirming keyboard from David Banner’s “Play” contends with the drums from the Ying Yang Twins’ “Shake,” and it is all fronted by the same holler that introduces the Ying Yang Twins’ “Badd.” The unmemorable rapping from Twista and Pitbull suggest those two also wanted a vacation, but they did not have the stellar year Mr. Collipark had, and as such their lacklustre performance cannot be so readily excused.
[4]

Joris Gillet: Things keeps getting weirder and freakier. There's lot of manic shouting and mad bleeping going on here. Which is a good thing of course. But makes, at the same time, sounding this weird and mad and freaky come across like a very serious business.
[8]

Mike Powell: It’s like you’re sitting on a couch napping and your roommate comes home with a shopping cart full of strobe lights, hangs them from the ceiling, turns them all on, douses you with a gallon of cold whole milk, and starts screaming through a traffic cone. Other than that, Twista and Pitbull get predictable, rapping quickly and barking a couple of words in Spanish, respectively, over some synths that are either dicks shooting laser beams or ray-guns shooting semen (not sure yet). One of the most senseless, forgettable, and hence pleasurably zen songs I’ve heard in a little while, but a little like feeding truckloads of cotton candy to hungry refugees.
[6]


Sway – Little Derek
[6.21]


Hillary Brown: Built on a device that is clever and fun for about 30 seconds but goes downhill like a bobsled after that, at least partially because the particular pitch of the repeated “fine” bores into one’s eardrum carpenter-bee-style. Ow.
[3]

Justin Cober-Lake: One more reason to be excited for Sway music to finally reach the US. He's funny and witty, and he makes shouting "woo!" more fun than it's been since "Song 2."
[7]

Joe Macare: This is the sound of someone enjoying the spoils of his victories. In his own idiosyncratic fashion, Sway is relaxing for just a moment, taking some time out to stretch his legs, taking his foot off the accelerator. If anyone deserves it, it's him, because the work he's put in so far has paid, "it seems like I'm the rapper that people take to", and it seems inconceivable that he won't own 2006 convincingly. Nobody uses the term 'January Jam', but that's what this is—music for making the year ahead look good and full of promise, something to make it feel like spring will come early. It's a British 'It Was A Good Day', with bells on.
[8]

Doug Robertson: For a man who’s supposedly at the cutting edge of UK hip hop, this doesn’t half sound dated with a very laid back, mid nineties vibe to it. It’s all adequate enough, but it doesn’t really have enough identity to stand out from the pack, despite the really quite catchy Booo! bits. He might want to beat the Americans at their own game, but he’ll need to raise his if he wants to break out of London, let alone across the Atlantic.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Something tells me this is the UK equivalent of Baby Bash, but "Suga Suga" was great, and I'm a sucker for this "Used to Love H.I.M."-type thing. Not about to start saying "Little Bradley's doing OK," but it's close. Is that a harpsichord?
[7]


Belle & Sebastian – Funny Little Frog
[6.84]


Mike Powell: I’ve been lowering my standards for Belle and Sebastian going on half a decade, and you know what? It feels pretty good! I get this snappy feeling in my toes, mmm-hmm. Gone are the tender portraits of rough-hewn rebels and romantics skirting the edge of normal society, here is Stewart Murdoch’s entry for the farthest-stretched rhyme in history: poet and throat (no, it doesn’t have shit to do with his Scottish accent). Actually, the dollops of horns and stock-soul progressions are nice enough; still, it’s like the best novelist of your generation deciding to toss out his quills for a life of corporate litigation.
[6]

Paul Scott: There is nothing about this that really engages beyond a glancing appreciation of inconsequential prettiness. It just feels so rote and by numbers; horns, strings, "quirky" lyrics, all there rendered in pastels. It lacks the kick in the shins that hides behind the superficially sweet ankle socks and chunky sandals of their best songs. This feels like it was written in minutes, and not in a good way.
[6]

Mike Atkinson: Ten years ago, this breezy, brassy, infectiously chirpy little ditty would have slotted in perfectly between Baby Bird and the Boo Radleys on the Radio One Breakfast Show. (“Holly Hotlips, is that not a great record?” “It’s a great record, Chris.”) Its trajectory would have been clearly defined: teatime slot on TFI Friday, straight in at Number Eight on Sunday, bosh slap wallop, job’s a good ‘un. What simpler, happier times. Ten years on, we look through a hall of mirrors: at a bunch of reformed indie shamblers in their thirties evoking 1996 Britpoppers in their twenties, in turn evoking the sort of British bubblegum which would have held sway while they were all in infancy. In other words: two fondly re-imagined Golden Ages for the price of one. Thus, for all the charming optimism on display, it’s difficult not to feel a certain wistfulness: for a time when this truly would have been Pure Pop for Now People, rather than Meta Pop for Ipod People who still feel a bit guilty about tuning into Radio Two at the weekend.
[7]

Mike Barthel: Do you know that if you call your sweetie a "funny little frog in
[your] pocket" you will most likely get a very nice reaction? It's true, although it might not be true if your sweetie is embarrassed about their stature or being French or the stature and appearance of certain body parts. Anyway, this isn't the best single from the Belle & Sebastian album, but it's a nice in-between, and sticks in your head in a pleasing fashion. Still, release "White Collar Boy" or "Sukie in the Graveyard" willya?
[8]

Patrick McNally: Where Cat Power grabs for some Southern charm with Hi Records musicians and “Moon River” references, Belle & Sebastian keep it Brit by seemingly jacking the theme from The Sweeney. Whilst it’s still their best single since that Hair pastiche and efficient in the latterday B&S manner it never quite reaches the escape velocity needed to take it somewhere special or unexpected. I would like to see the Funny Little Frog team up with the Crazy Frog though. I love frogs.
[4]

Edward Oculicz: A winsome but completely precious amalgalm of emasculated indie and glorious 70s radio pop—dig that soft-rock piano! Just a touch of vaudeville in there, too. Shake-inducing guitars in the second verse that become downright groovy in the instrumental bit. Giddy drumming in the pre-choruses. A wonderful little pop song, nicely punctuated with brass only when needed... mum.. dad.. I've got something to tell you. I'm indie.
[9]




Editor’s Note: The average scores quoted are calculated using scores submitted by the entire panel, not merely those whose blurbs have been published for each song.


By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-01-17
Comments (5)
 

 
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