The Singles Jukebox
Cheap-Ass Synths



this week in the Jukebox: Bonnie Pink could be lovable if you paid her double, Killerpilze continue the Jukebox trend of German songs that have chunky guitars on them that lose their appeal incredibly quickly, Prince still sounds like Prince, Amy Diamond still sounds like Amy Diamond, and Marco Borsato attempts to bring stadium house into AN ACTUAL STADIUM. We also give airings to the two best songs not to make it out of the Eurovision semi-final, but before all that noise, a little bit of a landmark. For the past fifteen weeks, Kubb's "Grow" has been the lowest-scoring song since the Jukeboxes got merged and went global, sat all on its tod right at the bottom of our rolling scoresheet, beneath Feeder, Chico, Gavin DeGraw, Fort Minor, and countless other bits of pop detritus that have washed into our ears since January. Today, however, Kubb clamber off the bottom of the league, to be replaced by a song that, one suspects, will be holding the wooden spoon for quite some time to come. Close your eyes and dream of a time when music really mattered and radio was king, when accountants didn't have control and the media couldn't buy your soul... and while you're at it, close your ears too.


Sandi Thom - I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)
[1.29]

John M. Cunningham: Oh good Lord. As if the unadorned Lilith Fair wail wasn't cringe-inducing enough, Thom engages in a brand of knee-jerk nostalgia for an earlier generation that's tired, trite, and ill-informed (the jarring image the title suggests of Sid Vicious sporting a daisy behind his ear should be proof enough that '77 and '69 didn't constitute the same rosy past). By the way, this is something like the 25th jukebox I've contributed to, and it's the first time I've given out this grade.
[0]

Iain Forrester: Minimalism, like singing a capella bar some occasional handclaps and marching drums, can work really, really well in music. Generally it helps if your voice isn’t a tuneless, over-sung wail and your lyrics aren’t breathtakingly witless and reactionary shite, though.
[0]

Joe Macare: Not just the worst single of the year so far, but also the most morally pernicious. Sandi yearns for a simpler, gentler time before she was born, when people left their front doors unlocked, and the locks were made out of paper. Sandi also thinks that the late Sixties and the birth of punk somehow happened at the same time, a nebulous golden age "when music really mattered." Sandi is a cloth-eared simpleton who should do herself a favour and actually listen to some of the other singles released this week. Living in the present = awesome.
[0]

Martin Skidmore: I hated this already, based on the TV ads. It's faux-rebellion of a particularly moronic and deluded kind, in that it is actually passive nostalgia with pretensions (and why 1969 rather than either of the two previous years?). Her voice is strong and there are some nice fast, but relatively subtle, touches of melisma, but the songs annoys the fuck out of me.
[1]


Rihanna - Unfaithful
[3.57]

John M. Cunningham: I fear that Rihanna is gradually losing the distinct identity that made "Pon de Replay" such a tropical thrill: her Jamaican accent is barely detectable in the verses (it makes a brief appearance on "searchin' for da right") and only crops up in the chorus as she lingers on the word "murderer." (Actually, maybe it's never been all that pronounced, but this is the first time her voice has been in the service of such a conventional R&B ballad.) What makes this work is the quiet melodrama of the arrangement and the fact that a confession of infidelity from a young female artist is relatively rare. Sure, she blabs about repentance, but I get the feeling she also relishes the sexual power she wields.
[6]

Hillary Brown: Um. Remember when Cordelia decides to sing “The Greatest Love of All” for the talent show on one of the earlier Buffy episodes, and it’s this moment of emotional and eardrum pain mixed with Mall of America normalcy? This all makes it much worse when Rihanna decides she needs a ballad to pull in a different crowd. Thus far, she’s been mostly hot and a little tough—a girl who likes to dance and might punch you—and now she’s making me want to hate her earlier material in retrospect.
[0]

Joe Macare: You don't really expect angst from Rihanna—if she's being unfaithful, you expect her to be making it sound as deliciously irresistible as it is wrong (and speaking of being wrong, can I take this opportunity to say I should have given "SOS" 10?). But it turns out that she's pretty good at portraying the messy emotional consequences and ugly fall-out of cheating, too. I'd still rather hear the naughty stuff, but that's just me.
[7]

Mike Powell: I think this is actually the first time I have heard Rihanna, and I’m guessing that lush, mournful ballads are not her forte. Because this sucks. And I’ve always hated the “Yeah, I am going to share the daily joys of existence with someone other than you but let me first express how much it hurts to do that” sentiment. (But listen, Rihanna, some advice: do not compare being a bad girlfriend to being a murderer, it is not right!! You are only making yourself feel sorry for yourself. And that is not what your man needs because what he needs is space. If you really care you will let it go!! And let your man go on to experience the daily joys of existence without you.)
[3]


Killerpilze - Richtig Scheisse
[4.00]

Jonathan Bradley Four Deutsche 16-17 year olds who list their Lieblingsbands as Lostprophets, NOFX, and BFMV (I’m assuming Bullet for My Valentine) make, entirely unsurprisingly, Pennywise-derived snotty skate punk with boisterous guitar riffs and lots of shouting. I can’t really fault them for that, since this is pretty similar to the shit I was playing with my friends when I was 16, and we had a great time doing it. But, unlike Killerpilze, I didn’t have a record deal.
[4]

Ian Mathers: According to a Google-translated Wikipedia page these guys are the “killer mushrooms” and the single is called “shits correctly,” which is probably too awesome to be true. Sadly the song isn't one that sounds like it would be graced with such a genius title, but it does have some very nice “na na na”s during the chorus and the rest has the kind of generic alt-rock surge that passes for punk on the European charts.
[5]

Iain Forrester: So, the title means “Right Shit,” yes? They’re being a little harsh on themselves and their thoroughly functional pop-punk, but not very much.
[4]

Edward Oculicz: Oh, the intro of this was so promising, like a midpoint between The Cure and the emo kids who love them! But with a title like "Richtig Scheisse" I was expecting something more shamelessly bratty—and the riffs that precede the chorus fulfill the promise, but everything's just too clean and frictionless to work. They might as well be singing about butterflies and fluffy things. Needs more snot.
[4]


Leonardo - Sinha Moca
[4.50]

Hillary Brown: This is perhaps a rung up the ladder from Michael Buble, but Leonardo’s voice is neither strong nor distinctive. He sounds out of his depth, especially on the La La’s.
[3]

John Cameron: Leonardo makes a significant attempt to break the streak of terrible singles from Latin American countries that I've had to listen to by sounding like the background music to one of the more peaceful levels from We Love Katamari. And for all intents and purposes, this is a good thing.
[7]

Ian Mathers: I guess this is the theme for a Brazilian soap opera, the plot of which is way to complicated for me to attempt to parse via translations. And the verses are a bit over-dramatic and quavery, as you'd expect—but then a small, soft choir launches into a series of “la la la”s with Leonardo and for the duration the song is a feathery soft delight, the kind of thing you'd want playing in a perpetual loop while you sip tropical, strongly alcoholic drinks and bask in the sun somewhere very warm. Like Brazil. If only that was the whole song!
[6]

Joris Gillet: To all the people who complain about the Eurovision song contest not being as good as it used to be what with all those new Eastern European countries camping it up and Scandinavian comedy-metallers winning and stuff: thís is how dull it used to sound. Apparently this is from Brazil but it really does sound like some Julio Iglesias wannabe Spanish Eurovision entry that could have come from any random year from the last couple of decades.
[2]


Paul Oakenfold ft. Brittany Murphy - Faster Kill Pussycat
[5.00]

Jonathan Bradley A fuzzed out bass, usually such an exciting element in wide screen dance music, is deployed to absolutely zero effect, and while instrumental overload works for artists like Basement Jaxx, in Oakenfold’s clumsy hands it simply becomes aural assault in the worst sense. The most positive aspect here is that his taste in guests has improved. Brittany Murphy’s appearance seems to have little more value than a WTF Hollywood crossover, but she’s worlds better than Shifty Shellshock.
[2]

Iain Forrester: Surprisingly cool sounding, but not really all that captivating. “It never really goes anywhere” is a particularly horrible way of dismissing something, but it’s what comes to mind throughout this.
[5]

Joe Macare: An exercise in obviousness: all possibility for subtlety is removed, leaving only big whooshing beats and shamelessly purred come-ons. Because sometimes subtlety really is the last thing that's required—or appropriate.
[9]

Mike Powell: Goldfrapp meet their evil doppelgangers at Coyote Ugly to no great consequence.
[4]


Keane - Is It Any Wonder?
[5.00]

Hillary Brown: Mushes the energy of the young U2 with the stadium pop of the older version of the same band. This would not quite result in Mario Batali grooving on your TV (one hopes), but at least it has a fucking drumbeat.
[5]

John Cameron: Probably the most surprising single of the week. Proof, I guess that nicking Kraftwerk riffs and licks is a good idea; though the initial noise throws one off and brings to mind the phrase "good ol' boring Keane," they actually bring out an energetic guitar riff and a fairly catchy chorus.
[8]

John M. Cunningham: I sort of like the way the chorus trips along against those desperately darting guitars, but there's nothing too surprising here. I'm not sure I'd heard Keane before, but this is just about exactly what I thought they'd sound like.
[5]

Martin Skidmore: Oh for fuck's sake. U2's back catalogue is easily available, so what is the point of this? Early stardom U2 pastiche, without the drama and power, which I hadn't realised two-decades-old U2 b-sides had until this put them in perspective.
[1]


Dierks Bentley - Settle for a Slowdown
[5.40]

Hillary Brown: The tone of his voice is traditionalism embodied, but unfortunately, he has that Greatest American Hero hair. Slap a hat on the boy and let him go. The song is too heavily slathered with steel guitar and other elements designed to make us feel the reality of it all, but he has the necessary come-on in his vocals. There’s potential here.
[5]

John Cameron: I'm shocked and horrified that we're reviewing pop-country songs now. If the songs we get in the future are as generic as this, they're going to get an equally generic rating.
[1]

Martin Skidmore: Old school country, kind of Outlaws in style without the ethos, at least going from this track. I quite like his voice, but it does the same thing on virtually every line (da da da da da DAHHHH), which is very tedious. Not bad, but there are about a hundred albums' worth of tracks by the likes of Merle and Waylon that are better than this, if it's the kind of thing you want.
[6]

Edward Oculicz: Oh, the atmosphere here is terrific—I see drifters, being run out of town or down to one's last dime. And the rest of it's nearly as good—it's evocative and gently poetic. Any great country single is just an arrangement change away from a stadium rock monster when you get down to it and this almost screams anthem.
[8]


Kate Ryan - Je T'Adore
[5.60]

Jonathan Bradley I could look deeper into this and consider that similar transitory thrills such as “Hungry Like the Wolf” sometimes blossom into something longer lasting, or even speculate that an ecstatic lovesick infatuation is more fun anyway, but for now, I have no time for such contemplation. I’m too busy bouncing on my bed and singing into a hairbrush.
[8]

Hillary Brown: The production’s a bit compressed (shades of the Ghostbusters soundtrack), but though it’s more like SweeTarts in the box (kinda stale, less snappy in flavor) than in the roll, it still manages to be candy.
[6]

Martin Skidmore: Quite strong vocals on a song that is more or less off-the-peg Europop, with a vaguely dancey backing with a touch of Hi-NRG. It even has that cabaret bit at the end where the singer throws their arms up. Of no great interest, I think.
[4]

Ian Mathers: Despite the almost ruthless efficiency with which Ryan wields the elements of a proper European pop tune (which is like pornography; hard to quantify, but easy to spot), and “Je T'Adore” is indeed a very good song that you are likely to find yourself humming, it feels a little hollow. The surface is extremely pleasing, but there doesn't seem to be much under there.
[7]


Amy Diamond - Don't Cry Your Heart Out
[5.71]

Iain Forrester: This is a lot less straight-out-pop and catchy than I would have imagined from all that I’ve read about her, somehow. Her voice is winningly pure and well used though, and it eventually just about wins me over, especially when the whooshy electronic sounds start coming in near the end.
[6]

Ian Mathers: It's interesting that Diamond is assuming that the doormat who is currently being pushed around by the jerk she's singing “Don't Cry Your Heart Out” at is going to eventually grow a spine. Both because “hey, you're going to regret being a jerk to her” isn't a direction most pop songs take, and because real life suggests Diamond will probably be mad at this guy for quite a while. And as far as rousing our pushover, some mid-tempo guitar skank and a chorus that isn't much more interesting than the verses certainly isn't going to do the trick.
[5]

John Cameron: I've never cared for ska in particular. The unfortunate combination of ska, strings, and someone who reminds me of Avril Lavigne in a thoroughly uncomfortable way results in a track that is listenable, but not memorable in any sense of the word.
[3]

Joris Gillet: All in all a not-particularly-bad bit of Ace Of Base-ish reggae-pop. The lyrics seem a bit mature for a fourteen year old. To be honest, the whole song comes across maybe a bit too grown-up and serious. Still, I could see myself really loving this if I hadn't already heard “Welcome to the City,” one of her earlier singles. Because that song, with largely the same ingredients, sounded fun, young, and weird. This is just a tiny bit dull in comparison.
[7]


Silvia Night - Congratulations
[6.00]

Iain Forrester: So Lithuania’s Eurovision entry wasn’t the most self-aggrandising after all—they neither claimed to be saving the world nor had a conversation with God to tell Him so. The fact that the production is so impressively dead-on early Britney (she does a pretty good vocal impression at times too) makes the swearing and silliness throughout even more brilliant fun. Together with Kate Ryan, this is enough to make me wish that I’d bothered watching the semifinals.
[8]

Hillary Brown: It’s a real shame that the whole fake it ‘til you make it thing doesn’t always work out, but at least some of us feel the second coming of Julie Brown was robbed. Iceland’s brand of cheese is one I’d buy.
[7]

Martin Skidmore: This sounds like a bad Eurovision entry (not just because of the title) complete with a dance troupe in matching trouser suits. She has a hugely annoying squeaky voice (even more so when she talks), looking for an early Britney sound but ending up much more Bonnie Langford, and the "I'm Silvia Night and I'm shining so bright" sounds completely desperate. She's not a winner of Icelandic Pop Idol series five or something like that, is she?
[1]

Joe Macare: The difference between parody and homage can be nothing at all. 'Silvia Night' may be intended as a satire on modern day materialism and the cult of celebrity blah blah blah, and so this song may be meant to make certain other, less consciously fictitious pop stars think really, really seriously about their life choices—but none of that matters. What matters is that this is so close to being perfect Max Martin-era rebirth-of-pop Britney that it may as well be the real thing, and it can certainly be enjoyed as such.
[8]


Cassie - Me & U
[6.33]

Jonathan Bradley The ever diminishing returns of this type of sparse R&B—booming club beats and eerie chiming augmented by unexceptional cooing—should be painfully clear by now. This is not even up to the standard of the 2005 version, Teairra Mari’s “Make Her Feel Good,” but I can’t help but find myself enjoying it in parts. When 2007’s edition comes along, it’s going to be of an even lower standard, but it’s probably going to garner exactly the same reaction from me.
[5]

Ian Mathers: This is choice—the floating-in-the-void production (especially that dark synth purr), Cassie's delivery (sweeter and less imperious than Ciara), the way there's about three chorus-worthy parts scattered throughout “Me & U,” and especially the way all the minimal elements line up to make something towering. God only knows if this is the beginning of something promising for Cassie and/or the people who produced this track, but it sure feels like it should be.
[8]

Joe Macare: Incredibly restrained, so minimal it makes Ciara sound like a wailing diva. But whereas Ciara's restraint usually evokes sexual tension, urges being tightly controlled, this has a lightness of touch and innocence to it in spite of the standard, disingenuously coy lyrics. So maybe Lumidee would be a better comparison (whatever happened to her?). Anyway, Cassie = one to watch, that's for sure.
[8]

Mike Powell: A low-pulse R&B seduction song for people on heroin that, ooh, crucially forgets how heroin makes sex physically impossible. So, to revise: the unsexy sound of people limply groping each other while they try to stay awake.
[4]


Prince - Fury
[6.40]

Martin Skidmore: The opening sounds almost like the magnificent "1999", but it kind of runs out of ideas after recycling those great old sounds. The tune is there, it's played well of course (though some of the guitar is rather rawk for my tastes)—it wouldn't have looked out of place as an album track in his heyday (which is high praise), but as a single it lacks sharpness or brio or something.
[7]

Joe Macare: Whereas "Black Sweat" was the sound of Prince catching up with the times, this is him going all the way back to his early days, big keyboard motif at the heart of the song, guitar squiggling all over the top, an overly urgent sense to the vocals. It's good, but there are better moments on the new album and it's hard not to feel this is a bone being thrown to the fans who think he lost the plot a little earlier than he really did.
[7]

Jonathan Bradley Lacking the futurism that distinguished “Black Sweat,” Prince abandons steely synths for overcooked production and undercooked funk. For an artist who predicted the Neptunes and Timbaland with his expert use of space, one of the saddest things about late period Prince is his mistaking sonic density for liveliness. “Fury” has just enough spark to stay alight, but in 2006, if you want 1983 Prince, you listen to 1983 Prince.
[5]

Mike Powell: So, the other day I had this incredible fried chicken, and I realized that part of what made it so great was that it was lightly and thoughtfully fried; it didn’t have to overcompensate. I should say that “Fury” is pretty good. And I know Prince is a good guitar player and all, but it’s like he keeps putting the damn thing back in the sizzler until what you basically have is a box of water crackers caught in the grease trap. A dangerous amount of flourish.
[6]


Bonnie Pink - Love Is Bubble
[6.43]

Joris Gillet: The swing-revival-revival starts here. Or rather, in Japan. Have no idea where to place this. The other stuff on her website sounds like standard, safe pop and R&B stuff but this song is also not weird or far out enough to fit into the Kahimi Karie/Pizzicato Five Shibuya Kei-trend from a decade or so ago. Like hiring a big band is a perfectly normal thing to do for any middle of the road pop singer. Which, of course, is how it should be.
[8]

John M. Cunningham: Okay, so this boasts perhaps the most J-Pop song title imaginable: not only does it turn an emotion into a surreal abstraction, it also reminds me of the cute "Bubble Bobble" video game. (I spent too many hours in college playing its addictive spin-off "Bust-a-Move.") The song itself imagines Pizzicato Five as a swing band (cripes, the 90s revival is upon us already), and though I can't imagine it having much staying power with me, as a sugary novelty tune it's pretty damn fun.
[7]

Mike Powell: The improbable swing revival revival comes to Japan in a huge fucking mess of a song about prostitution. And I know, you’re probably thinking that there’s something bonkers about the song that will keep it buoyant for the first few listens, but no, not really. Like an obese Save Ferris getting rolled through the park for its daily bath.
[3]

Jonathan Bradley So much of the appeal of Japanese pop is the bizarre juxtaposition of familiar elements, in this case slinky cabaret, prohibition-era brass and bouncy pop, that it is difficult to imagine how it is seen in its home country, where, I assume, it makes perfect sense. Sounding a lot like it was written to be a show stopping musical number in some fantastical motion picture, it rockets through its run time off-balance before breathlessly arriving at an exultant conclusion that makes no more sense than anything that came before it.
[7]


Marco Borsato - Rood
[6.80]

Ian Mathers: This starts as if it's going to be a standard sweeping ballad, but then the orchestra and the trance bleeps start up and Borsato starts really giving it some stick. This is daffy, over-the-top stuff, but damned if it doesn't work; “Rood” is extremely rousing, and deserves to play over a sports victory or Romeo and Juliet or something, anything, grandiose enough to support its weight.
[7]

Joris Gillet: Some background information: Marco Borsato is the Netherlands' biggest popstar. He fills stadiums, is married to the girl who used to turn the letters on the Dutch version of the Wheel of Fortune and usually wears comfortable woollen turtleneck sweaters. “Rood” is quite clearly an attempt at having his own “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Music” (the John Myles song). It's preposterously big and unnecessarily bombastic and, because it's 2006, it's got big chunks of eurotrance in it. I love it but also think it could be even better. The biggest letdown is the Irish jig bit in the middle of the song. It's exactly at that point where the song should go mad by going intergalactically big and instead it just goes a bit silly. But, to be honest, I can't stop myself grinning every time the Tiesto-ish synth-sounds turn up after one of those sensitive piano-and-violins-segments. What a marvellous song.
[9]

Martin Skidmore: We start with something that sounds like someone doing their final number (grand piano, strings, meaningful mutterings leading into a big ballad) on a light entertainment TV show, then it gains pace with something like a stab at trance, then that stops, then... There's even what sounds like a Scottish reel briefly, but it all feels kind of random and trying too hard without knowing quite what it's after. It's full of ideas, but they are all bad ones.
[3]

Mike Powell: I HAVE TRUDGED 200 MILES THROUGH IMPOSSIBLE SNOW AND SCORCHING SUNLIGHT; I HAVE BRAVED THE BREATH OF DRAGONS AND THE DARKEST HOLLOWS OF A MAN’S SPIRIT; I BRING YOU A TINGLING MOUND OF EPIC, BREASTBEATING DANCEPOP LACED WITH CELEBRATORY CELTIC ELECTRO-JIGGING AND TWO KEY CHANGES. IN MY FINAL TRICK, I WILL MAKE LIGHT OUT OF DARKNESS AND PULL WORLD PEACE OUT OF YOUR CHILD’S RIGHT EAR.
[7]


Nelly Furtado ft. Timbaland - Promiscuous Girl
[8.20]


John Cameron: I have decided that every fault this song has can be excused by one thing: TIMBALAND. "Will you still respect me if you get it"? "Is your game MVP like Steve Nash?" The weird lipstick Nelly Furtado wears in the video? Guess what guys, it doesn't matter because Timbaland kicks the shit out of this song—an almost oppressively-danceable beat, choral vocals, cheap-ass synths, and pretty much everything he says.
[9]

John M. Cunningham: It's not just the vague kick I get out of hearing the singer of "I'm Like a Bird" randomly name-check an NBA star as if she were 50 Cent. I mean, yeah, she's recruited Timbaland and shinied up her hip-hop, but that wouldn't mean jack without the song's wonderfully squirming synths, hot percussive backdrop, and engaging back-and-forth between the two leads. This deserves to be this year's summer anthem, pumping out of cars in the Dairy Queen parking lot.
[9]

Martin Skidmore: I'm not sure if this works. The male chorus singing seems too weak and tuneless, and the exchanges between Nelly and Tim don't feel as if they were in the same room at any point. Her rapping is uninteresting and lacks confidence and punch. The production is as strong as we expect from Timbaland, and I guess with Missy this would work, but here it falls just a little flat.
[7]

Joe Macare: The reinvention of Nelly Furtado as 2006's hottest R&B-flavoured pop star in every sense has been as undisputed a triumph as it has been a surprise. "Maneater" might be the real jaw-dropper, but this is equally brilliant in its own way, and reminiscent of the best work the Neptunes and Timbaland himself did for Justin Timberlake. Tim must be laughing at how well he's outlasted the rivals once tipped to replace him—or maybe he's too busy flirting with Nelly.
[10]


By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-05-31
Comments (4)
 

 
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