his week’s Jukebox sees your section editor trying something a bit different. What he has done is to get the correspondents to send in their ratings for this week’s singles, along with occasional thoughts on them. However, this week he’s going to be doing all the writing, in a sort of singles column type fashion. The scores are theirs, the words are pretty much his. He’s not quite sure why he thought this was a good idea, but he’s woken up and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ is on the telly, so presumably things can only get better…
David Gray – The One I Love
There’ve been bigger shocks in Jukebox history, haven’t there? The return of the man whose White Ladder album essentially owned British music in 2000, with his acoustic guitar, songwriting craft and voice that you just know someone, somewhere once described as ‘Dylan-esque’ and was then paid actual money for so doing… this may as well have had ‘KICK HERE’ spray painted on its torso. This song’s main crime appears to be the fact that it’s a bit dull, which, y’know, it is. But dull enough to merit a score lower than James Blunt? That’s just harsh – the arrangement here’s kinda pretty in a way, the song itself is all tidily put together and so on, and, y’know, dull as it is, we’ve covered so many worse songs… that voice, though. This is a song about telling the stars above about the one you love. Gray’s problem is that his particular bleat, for all its volume and ‘texture’, has painted him into a corner – no matter what lyrics leave his lips, it will always sound like he’s saying that the pain is sort of around his kidneys, and that the medication his doctor prescribed just made him feel drowsy. It’s impossible for him to express intimacy, affection, tenderness or even attempt levity – his voice is sort of stuck on “vaguely regretful longing”. Still, it shifts the units…
Jessica Simpson – These Boots Are Made For Walking
Speaking of which, would you like to look at Jessica Simpson’s ass? Would you like to look at her ass? How can you possibly be wondering where exactly this song’s lost its hook when she is so very very keen to show you her ass? Look, it’s as though her front end and her back end are two entirely separate entities, like an articulated lorry trying to turn sharply on some permafrost! Jesus, this record hates fun. Listen to the way she, er, ‘drawls’ “WILLIE NELSON EVEHBODY!” in the manner of a student union rep who is deeply interested in the caravan holiday you had in Prestatyn when you were 14, the inclusion of handclaps because apparently that’s what the young people like, the way that this could by and large be accurately summarised as “’Blowin’ Me Up (With Her Love)’ except shit”, and most of all the horrid, horrid way that it decides that sexuality is something that can be conferred by mumbling and making breathing noises. Not any particular type of breathing noises, just sort of going “uhh” a bit because Britney sort of did something like that once, or something. That’s all this song is, a selection of individually unimpressive parts kind of kicked together into a deeply apathetic whole. Sometimes things go beyond rockism, popism and so on. Sometimes things are just shit.
The Bloodhound Gang – Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo
The Gang make a string of crap euphemisms for fucking, because, you see, that is what they do, innit? How fantastically unpretentious good clean fun for your inner teenage adolescent type person! Playing up to some imagined public image because, you see, entertainment is entirely about giving the public what they want, and absolutely nothing else at all. That’s pretty much all this song does anyway – Jimmy Pop’s unappealing voice, quiet verse, moderately rockin’ chorus, “I don’t wanna beat around the bush”, and it’s all over in time for elevenses. Inoffensive while it’s on, inconsiderable while it isn’t. Tum de tum.
The Dandy Warhols – Smoke It
Sometimes describing things as ‘a mess’ is actually quite appropriate. Courtney Taylor-Taylor and chums decide to tackle the album tracks of Bran Van 3000 by doing some meths. There’s some entertaining moments, the odd vocal snatch that’s quite fun, but by and large this is some bloke trying to remember some Beck lyrics while some other bloke attempts to tune his guitar to ‘wibble’. For about four minutes. It’s alright, really.
R Kelly ft The Game – Playas Only
Wherein R Kelly decides that Craig David is leading the way.
Jeff Wayne – Eve Of The War (Tom Middleton Mixes)
Half-decent bassy-dubby thud-thud, occasionally with snatches from War Of The Worlds. Put in the background of a shoot-em-up on the Amiga from around 1994, and this would be some kind of cult classic. Listened to on its own for its entire seven minute duration, it just seems like a bit of a chore.
KT Tunstall – Suddenly I See
Speaking of chores… Ah, this ain’t so bad, really. An amiable rattle through three and a half minutes about nothing whatsoever, KT chucks out lines like “Her face is a map of the world, it’s a map of the wurrrld/You can see she’s a beautiful girl, she’s a beautiful gurrrrl” like so much chicken soup for the soul, but the pace it kicks along at keeps its head just about above the water, the little twitch when she goes “suddenly I see” just enough to keep you interested. You tap your pen along, and not much more. It’s dead on a 5. We guessed correct. Whoo!
My Chemical Romance – The Ghost Of You
“Look dear, I’ve packed your Angry Eyes!” Geddie Way and chums get a bit droney and a bit mopey, and you’re tempted to think that this is somehow better than it ends up being. The production is very smooth in a good way, he definitely sounds like he’s been through some variety of mincer, but somehow I just don’t care - as a single this just lacks impact, so busy being bedraggled that it’s not got time left to devote to making anyone else be bothered, hoping that a general air of distress will do the trick. It’s like stumbling in on the conclusion without having any idea what happened beforehand. She is never coming home, never coming home? Erm, yeah, well, I can see how that would be a bit of a pisser, yeah. All the ghosts that will never ever haunt you… well, yeah, ghosts do tend to go in for that haunting stuff, don’t they, a bit. Yeah. Umm…
Elbow – Forget Myself
This has something of the same effect, the difference being that this is the first single off the album, and once again suffers from what’s looking to be this week’s particular affliction, that of being composed of some bits that you feel you should say nice things about but the end package is just so very… I dunno. Guy Garvey’s drugged bear drawling is as charming as ever, and the chorus is alright, but nothing like strong enough to stand out on its own, which is what I think it’s meant to be doing, except it keeps slipping into and getting eaten up by the verses. It’s all very individual and wordy and forceful and driven, and that’s all great, but it just feels somehow misdirected – there’s a lot of grand sweeps, but they’re just not grand or sweeping enough, somehow. It probably sounds great on the album, but I’m listening to it in between My Chemical Romance and…
Public Domain – Love U More
… some happy hardcore! It feels a bit cheap to say that you know exactly what you’re getting here, but really, you do. There is banging. There are horns of the aerosol variety. A woman sings a chorus and about half a verse. There’s a sort of breakdown bit where they take out the bass and leave the blips in. Then we resume the banging. It lasts about four minutes. It’s alright, really.
Les Rythmes Digitales – Jacques Your Body (Make Me Sweat)
Who has the foncque?!?! Gosh, that bass sounds lovely, doesn’t it? This sweet little loop, twanging away discombobulatedly (that might not be the right word but it doesn’t half sound like it) under this electro fuzz blanket, and for two minutes this is quite brilliant, then it decides to bring in the slow bit just in case you’ve OD’d on funkiness and it goes a bit wrong from then on – the ending’s all smooved up, with what I presume is some kind of Mellotron or something giving the effect of getting groped by Don Johnson, when all you really need is the bass and the fuzz. That would just be ace.
Speedy ft. Lumidee – Sientelo
I’m tempted to make a ludicrously sweeping statement along the lines of “No-one gets lost in the mix quite like Lumidee”, despite the fact that I patently don’t really know what I mean there, but oh god she is just ace here, her voice like goo slipping between the big-as-in-fuck-off-huge echo chamber drums and general claustrophobia of the whole affair beautifully, like when the Sugababes do sultry and yet somehow so much deeper and darker, her silt-encrusted groans of “Leave me ‘looone… leave me ‘lo-hoa-oane…” like a ghost slipping round every cog in the machine, bringing up every texture and sensation the experience has to offer. Before then we’ve got Speedy mewling something in Spanish and sounding like a teenage Alan Davies, and as such before Lumidee comes in you’re tempted to think he’s wrecked the whole thing, but the tag team of the two voices works incredibly – with her on board he’s recast as the zombie ringmaster, consigned and desensitised to his fate, as the drums fucking thunder all over the place and keyboard lines seep, ooze and harry in whatever space they’ve got left, and then once you’re really into it the whole track just stops and vanishes into thin air, leaving you in desperate, desperate need of more. Never mind deciding that this is somehow not single of the week – we gave this less than 6 how, exactly?
The Nextmen ft. Dynamite MC – Blood & Fire
Ah yes, because obviously it’s not as good as Dynamite MC deciding to resurrect the spirit of Definition Of Sound. Not that this is without its charms, though – the drum and tweak beat shuffles along more than amiably, the whole mood is nice and sunny, and the MC’s have the decency not to get in the way too much. Soddit, this could well be the most likeable thing in this week’s list by a mile – so very perky and unflustered, and infectiously cheery – it’s just, y’know, not Lumidee. That’s hardly its fault, though.
Gorillaz ft. Shaun Ryder – DARE
Somewhere in between those four we find this one, as we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that those over-treated Albarn vocals really could be anyone else and as such liking this doesn’t amount to liking him, NO IT DOESN’T. This is an odd one – high keyboard line and low, farrrrrted bass with Ryder’s slow, deliberate leer somehow makes this hugely infectious. Y’know how those articles in the US press are all “Mike Jones cleverly repeats his own name so people remember it”? I think that’s what’s going on here, and I think I quite like it, though I’m not entirely sure why.
Gwen Stefani – Cool
Wherein Gwen subjugates Jennifer Paige, Kim Carnes, Laura Branigan, Il Postino, and pretty much the whole of 1986. As such it’s much better than ‘Rich Girl’, but the trouble is that it’s too aware that it’s in the shadow of the 1980’s – yes, those shredded electronic bells are nice, and it’s a very tidy little song on its own, it’s just ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ is so very much better and ‘Cool’ is quite desperately aware of that fact, and seemingly rampantly unwilling to escape from it. Nice enough on its own.
Saul Williams – Black Stacey
So, our winner this week, then, and I’m trying to work out whether it’s unexpected or not. What we have here is a five-minute long piano-driven rap about childhood, being black and being crap with girls as a by-product of that, about letting your ethnicity define yourself too much – “Yeah I became militant too/So it was fair on every level/I was blacker than you” – and worrying about how it colours others’ perception of you. The piano line jaunts along in a slightly sinister manner, but it’s Williams himself that carries the day, his flow relentless in its focus – the chorus is signalled only by a slight kink thrown into the piano, but the force of his repetitions of “Black Stacey, you called me Black Stacey” really rams it home. It’s pretty much unlike anything the Jukebox has run into so far, a solid, insistent narrative drive with INTELLIGENCE and PASSION and STUFF, the kind of thing that when people write about it suddenly sounds incredibly annoying and unctuous but when taken on its own really is quite marvellous. An odd winner, for an odd week, but none the worse for all that.
Normal service resumes next week, when the Jukebox commemorates its sixth month anniversary by getting Devendra Banhart and Goldie Lookin’ Chain to go “ooh” at each other. If you’re interested in writing for the UK Singles Jukebox, please send some samples of your singles reviews to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d particularly like some emo kids, please.