The Singles Jukebox
Guardedly Optimistic



this week, the Singles Jukebox celebrates Stylus being officially declared The Observer Music Monthly's twentieth most favouritest music website in the whole wide world ever ever ever as only it knows how, i.e. by being slightly tepid towards the new Aly & AJ single. Also, Marie Serneholt frees herself from the A*Teens' big shiny yoke, Kanye West IS Kanye West IN a Kanye West Production, Izzy From Neighbours does that whole Madison Avenue thing, and Rihanna co-opts the 1980's as only she or the Sugababes or Kelis or Tiga or Javine etc. First, though, a landmark event of our very own, as an article on Stylus is less than complimentary about Embrace...


Embrace - Nature's Law
[3.14]

Steve Mannion: One of my least favourite voices in music comes from Danny Mcnamara. Technically competent of course but anodyne in character, soft, bloodless and lacking real passion or pathos all too often. Musically adept as Embrace are, this is a dull, piano-led ballad that leads you down a wintry garden path, to a deserted fountain covered in bird poo. So far, so Delta Goodrem. Just go down the pub instead.
[1]

Edward Oculicz: The opening piano sounds like Roxette. Possibly the most corny arrangement ever inflicted upon the world by a number-one-album-having rock band. Not as grandiose as it thinks it is, and the impassioned backing vocals seem strangely out of place on the chorus which is the least melodically interesting bit and the lyrics are clunky, but there’s something good-natured and warming about it.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Nature has decreed that for every arctic monkey sired on Albion’s shores a crew of Coldplay clones must match them in hummability. What does it mean? We still haven’t figured out what purpose a mayfly serves either.
[4]

John M. Cunningham: I've never quite understood why Coldplay garners so much derision when they write such efficient, moody pop songs, but listening to "Nature's Law" makes me wonder if this is what the anti-Coldplay brigade hears when subjected to Chris Martin's plaintive wail. Here's a spacious, sort of cloying piano ballad, but one that ultimately fails by indulging in atmosphere at the expense of melodicism; when the song's most compelling vocal part sounds suspiciously like Pat Benatar's "Invincible," it's time to give X&Y another chance, you guys.
[3]


Le Mans - Rolling The Stones
[3.71]

Jonathan Bradley: I think they bit some Placebo for this. Unfortunately it was some of Placebo’s keyboard, rather than some of Placebo’s theatre or dynamics or androgyny. Perhaps this is Placebo if Brian Molko was a well-adjusted woman rather than a preening, mincing queen.
[3]

Edward Oculicz: Not a patch on previous single “Countach (Now I’m Dancing),” a lost pop classic from 2004 nobody except me listened to, largely due to a distressing decrease in tempo and a flat, repetitive chorus. The verses sport a lovely riff, and there’s a nifty bit of bass in the chorus, but the song’s not up to the lovingly layered rock sounds other than the strangely overwrought middle eight that injects a bit of life into proceedings.
[6]

Joe Macare: That awful, AWFUL title just seems to draw attention to how bog-standard and generic this is, doesn't it? There's one little chiming guitar noise in this that's quite nice, and deserves to be nicked and placed in a better song. And if I’m being charitable, maybe the vocalist could do something with better material. Otherwise, decidedly blah.
[4]

John Cameron: What I love about dance music is when it's depressing and slow and lacks any excitement. Yeah, I love it.
[4]


Keith Urban - Tonight I Wanna Cry
[3.83]

Jonathan Bradley: I’ve got no problem with Australians faking southern accents to make it big overseas, but when the only thing separating your country music from a boy band ballad is a counterfeit Nashville twang, the whole exercise seems a bit pointless.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Guilelessness and bathos: can it work? Ask Keith Urban, who’s been pulling that shit for years. The urban young, who’ve been suckled on irony since they watched their first Weezer video, will sneer, but this sounds kinda sweet (it takes a strong man not to overdo it on the strings).
[6]

Doug Robertson: As names go, Keith Urban is less genuine artist and more crap comedy character invented by some past “it” comic who doesn’t really “get,” for want of a better term, “youth culture.” This doesn’t do much to dispel that notion, as it’s a laughably mawkish ballad written by someone who’d clearly head “Wind Beneath My Wings” a few minutes before settling down to pen this. Still, it is Mother’s Day coming up so perhaps you could buy it as a gift. But only if you really, really hate your mother.
[2]

Hillary Brown: Dear god. At first, it is awful but bearable, with just the piano, but as each successive instrument comes in, it becomes a bizarro Stop Making Sense, resulting in forehead clutching and pain. Midler wants her song back, yo.
[1]


Rammstein - Mann Gegen Mann
[4.29]

Doug Robertson: Has Ricky Martin only just arrived in Germany? I ask not out of any particular interest in the career of the Latino lothario—presumably even his agent doesn’t have much interest in his career these days either—but because this song initially sounds like the happy-go-lucky German popsters trying their hand at doing their own “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Despite this promising start, it’s soon business as usual as they try and summon up the sulphuric sound of Satan himself with only a lot of bass tones and a throat full of phlegm. Bless them.
[4]

Martin Skidmore: Very polite and quiet bits are predictably overwhelmed by noisy metal parts. Other odd touches are added here and there. It's interesting and not without power, but I didn't really want to hear it again. If Germans shouting at you is your idea of fun, you might enjoy this.
[3]

Ian Mathers: It's not just because the title translates as “Man Against Man” that this comes across as spectacularly butch in the way only Germans (and Judas Priest) seem to be able to do. The steelworker chorus chanting the title is pretty awesome, and so is the rest of the song; Rammstein never change, bless 'em, and this is merely the latest and best incarnation of their Eternal Single. As long as you don't mind a little homoeroticism with your pop industrial metal (whatever), this should go down fine.
[7]

Joe Macare: Those wacky wacky funsters Rammstein! What will they get up to next! Something po-faced and absurdly macho and hilarious Teutonic, I have no doubt. Something that would ruin an otherwise enjoyably grim and violent videogame popular with teenage boys and over-stressed office workers. Something that on its own merits could surely only ever appeal to idiots. Something like this, then!
[0]


Kus - Ik Heb Je Gewist
[4.33]

Brad Shoup: I love me some voiced glottal fricatives like anyone else, but giving this song good marks based on that is pure fetishism. I have a feeling that once I develop perfect pitch, I’ll realize that the pull in songs like these is attributable to their use of the G dim7 chord or something similar. It could be that I have a reptilian memory of a particularly good tone, and that’s why I download mp3s like Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long.”
[4]

John M. Cunningham: In their country, Kus means "kiss," but this Dutch girl group is nowhere near as fun or memorable as their makeup-clad namesake. It's pop, so disposability is allowed, but even the band's logo—the name in huge, kid-friendly, bubblegum-colored letters (what is this, Barney & Friends?)—hints at the sheer cheapness of the music.
[2]

Ian Mathers: I adore Kus' “Lekker Ding” single; it sounds like the theme song to the best TV show you never actually watched as a kid. “Ik Heb Je Gewist” isn't nearly as full of glee (or horns), sadly, and that “rap” in the middle was a spectacularly bad choice, but at least it's goofy rather than stupid. Their website design and press photos suggests this is music for young girls, and as such it's pretty darn successful.
[6]

Doug Robertson: The dance routine for this must have sign-language style hand movements to go along with this, otherwise there really isn’t any justice in the world, even if Lemar winning prizes and continuing to have a music career pretty much proves that anyway. It’s pretty much straight down the line girly teen pop; no real imagination’s gone into it, but it’s fun in quick bite of candyfloss kinda way, even if the memory of the experience is likely to be similarly as fleeting.
[5]


Rogue Traders - Watching You
[4.50]

Martin Skidmore: What a rubbish band name—financial irregularities are not rock 'n' roll. The main riff might as well be sampled from "My Sharona", it's that close a copy (googling finds people claiming it's homage rather than theft). The verse vocals comprise an indie girl imitating early Beastie Boys, which probably sounds better than the record actually does. The middle eight is more or less Gary Numan. I do realise all this might sound like a winning recipe, but actually it's just dull and derivative and lifeless. I've also just learned that the indie girl singer is in Neighbours, but this doesn't help.
[2]

John Seroff: It is the melody of a botched lobotomy; a lightly considered nth degree retread of “My Sharona” that features the (perhaps ironic?) lyric "I need a little edge with my electro-pop." It is not stupid enough to be fun; it takes a quarter-century old guitar riff and adds NOTHING to it and, worst of all, it's boring. There are songs in this world that are good, songs that are alright, songs that are so bad that they're good and songs that are simply, flat-out bad.
[2]

Steve Mannion: It’s hard to go wrong ripping off “My Sharona,” but Rogue Traders are cutting it quite fine with a mediocre Stefani clone dishing out the sass. Still the 4/4 stomp has enough clout to make this far from a complete disaster.
[4]

John Cameron: "I need a little edge with my electro-pop"? What the hell? That's a bright point in an otherwise maddening anomaly of a song; the drums and guitar are obnoxious but the synth break is fantastic, and the verses suck but the bridge is killer. Unfortunately I think the "loose, sexy feel" comes across as really contrived. Maybe if they tried less to sound like Kelly Clarkson?
[6]


Aly & AJ - Rush
[4.71]

Jonathan Bradley: The Disney Channel spits out two extra Hilary Duff clones, and hooks them up with the same accessories as all the other pop stars who are yet to see their high school graduation. It’s not up to Avril standard but the chorus has enough pep to prove them better than Skye Sweetnam; which, admittedly, isn’t saying much.
[4]

Steve Mannion: Predictable youth-orientated pop-rock apparently diving a little too late onto the coat-tails of a still lingering “Since U Been Gone.” But there’s really no need for a weaker clone of that so why bother?
[2]

John M. Cunningham: From all available evidence, fresh-faced teens Aly & AJ are either the Olsen Twins of pop (note creepily affectionate sisterhood) or Smoosh if they sold out. Which means that yes, "Rush" is formulaic Radio Disney fare, but it's also the kind of song I easily adore: it's compact and crammed with sweet hooks, and when the chorus bursts open, the promise of its title is neatly fulfilled. If Top 40 takes a hold of it, I suspect it'll be a major candidate for private car sing-alongs.
[8]

Ian Mathers: You always want to be careful about accusing the Disney Channel of taking young people who may or may not be talented and forcing them to produce pap before they've matured artistically. You have to be careful because for all we know this kind of crap is exactly what Aly & AJ (they're sisters!) would produce given all the time and space in the world. Their website cites “Sting, Seal, Heart and John Mayer”, and “Rush” is roughly what you would get if you pureed those artists and removed anything interesting.
[2]


Simone Cristicchi - Che Bella Gente
[4.83]

Doug Robertson: Despite being Italian, there’s a very Parisian café culture feel to this track. Although you perhaps shouldn’t take that entirely as gospel as I’ve never actually been to the city and my main experience of French café culture comes via the medium of the vaguely xenophobic BBC sitcom Allo, Allo. An accordian plays plaintively in the background as an “E-la-la” vocal floats lightly over the top. The sun shines, the smell of a freshly baked croissant arrives on the barest of breezes and you relax, watching as the world wends its merry way around you. This spring lark’s pretty good when you come to think about it.
[6]

Hillary Brown: 1960s Italian film music dragged painfully by the hair into the present and touched ever so gently with the brush of rap. Too gently, in fact. If one is going to do this kind of cutie-pie thing, one needs a lot more venom to pull it off. This is just swoony and Buble.
[3]

Edward Oculicz: Italy’s best new singer-songwriter takes on the world’s worst song festival, San Remo and loses. The paisano-folk stylings are present and correct, rhythmically, but it’s a listless melody and a curiously detached vocal to boot and only saved from being flat-out awful by the lovely accordion and the slightly out-of-step chorus. Hardly thrilling.
[3]

John M. Cunningham: When the globalization of pop routinely results in the marginalization of regional sounds, it's heartening to hear an Italian chart success in 2006 that uses the same iconic accordion and mandolin of the Godfather theme. The song itself is insignificant, although Cristicchi's vocal does maintain a satisfying urgency amidst the cinematic orchestration.
[5]


Marie Serneholt - That's The Way My Heart Goes
[5.67]

Martin Skidmore: She may no longer be doing ABBA covers with the A-Teens, but we aren't straying at all far from Eurovision roots here. Her voice is insubstantial but warmly likeable (and sexy here and there), and we have a jolly chorus with lots of dum-de-dum-de-dum, dum-de-day stuff—the song is full of small pleasures. However, the production feels low on imagination and heavy-handed, even ham-fisted in places, and it's this that might limit its success—I'd have liked some stronger, crunchier beats in the bigger moments, but I guess expecting every good pop song to be produced by Xenomania is rather too much to ask.
[7]

Ian Mathers: As much as I like ABBA I never got into the A*Teens, either conceptually or in practice, so it's more than a little shocking that a solo single from one of their completely interchangeable singers would be so relatively catchy and memorable. Sure, she looks like a Swedish Jessica Simpson, but... hold on a minute. She sounds kind of like a Swedish Simpson as well. And both of them sound similarly awkward when singing the words “bad girl.” It's not bad, but it has a way to go before you start throwing the word “good” around.
[5]

John Cameron: I wish I knew which TV theme she stole the verse from, but at least I know "Whenever, Wherever" when I hear it. Oh, wait: the verse comes from "Inspector Gadget." And now that I read that combination, it actually sounds pretty cool.
[6]

Hillary Brown: Not brilliant, but amiable, even taking into consideration the backup vocal whispering weirdly in the left channel. Perhaps not fully Swedalicious. Let’s pretend it’s merely nearby, like Finland or Denmark.
[5]


Seeed - Ding
[6.00]

Jonathan Bradley: German dancehall, huh? I’m envisioning Sergeant Schultz and Colonel Klink smoking blunts on a Jamaican beach, and the extra-e endowed Seeed are doing little to disillusion me of that image. Maybe it’s just the language difference, but if these guys drafted the singer from Rammstein to do the German bits, I wouldn’t notice. There’s just a bit too much focus and intent about it all.
[4]

Brad Shoup: “What time is it?” “I ‘unno.” “Time to un-pimp ze club banger.”
[7]

Joe Macare: Initial research seemed to suggest that this bunch might be Berlin's answer to Gorillaz, as the video for “Ding” features stop-motion animation of a lecherous orangutan and a demonic badger (to quite awesome effect). But no, it seems like there are human beings in Seeed, quite a few of them in fact. Which might explain how they manage to pack quite so much manic dancehall chaos into one song, except for the fact that the landscape of pop is littered with tedious music made by bands with lots of members. So maybe it is the badgers wot dun it after all.
[9]

Doug Robertson: Like a Black Eyed Peas tribute act, only with the added benefit of not being distracted by Fergie, who, lest we forget, has the cold dead eyes of a killer, this ticks most of the right boxes, even if the one marked “Correct number of e’s in the word ‘Seed’” has been studiously ignored. The whole thing is dirty enough to be interesting while clean enough not to frighten the horses so overall is officially ‘quite good.’
[6]


Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Gold Lion
[6.14]

Alfred Soto: What we’ve always wanted: a marriage between One Beat-era Sleater Kinney and Cyndi Lauper. Not as rocky as you’d expect either, with one hitch: lyrical abtuseness and shiny production are an awkward fit. But, hey, it sorta worked for Romeo Void. Karen O should definitely listen to Deborah Iyall’s relationship advice: a girl in trouble is a temporary thing, if she can avoid the sophomore-album-blues.
[6]

Steve Mannion: Plodding and strumming along in quite a disappointing way for one of the better exponents of edgy indie/pop-rock of recent years. If it wasn’t for Karen O’s occasional lapse into B52s-esque caterwauling, this would be dangerously close to Oasis territory. The guitars aren’t as wild or as they tended to be throughout Fever To Tell and generally the spark is not here with anything approaching the same urgency as it was with their previous singles.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Ah, the indie crossover hit: everyone knows what it sounds like, but no one knows what it means. Yeah, it sounds nifty, it’s more sincere than “Maps,” and I haven’t played air guitar in so so long. I can’t stand the Pixies, yet I remain guardedly optimistic.
[8]

Joe Macare: A little disappointing, this. It sounds like a more conventional form of indie rock than I would have expected or liked: more prosaic, with less of that pent-up horny energy that was previously so often the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' trademark, at least until those "ooh-oooh"s come in. It's not bad by any means... But did I want more from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at this point? Does “Gold Lion” make me worry that they've ‘done a Supergrass’ and grown up in all the worst ways, 'matured' into boring rockers, lost some of their sense of fun? Does it make me less excited and more anxious about the new album? Yes, yes, and yes.
[7]


Rihanna - SOS
[7.43]

Hillary Brown: Borrows the “bomp-bomp” double-hit from “Tainted Love,” but manages to turn that song’s slow-burn posing into something a lot more like “Thriller” in the process, evoking many dancers doing the same moves, and with the same little hint of danger as MJ’s tune (i.e., there is a distinction to be made here between the real stuff [read: obsessive love] and the fake, fun stuff [read: zombies]).
[6]

Brad Shoup: Monster samples are so shameful, but more so is a successful attempt. Ghoulish men are buried in that bobber of a chorus; this ought to have been my first introduction to Rihanna, instead of her bloodless first single. My only problem is modern pop’s continued refusal to channel pure joy, every club jam tastes like last-hour desperation.
[8]

Joe Macare: First up, Rihanna should be congratulated for finding something new to do with “Tainted Love” at all. Question is, is it more than the sum of its parts? Maybe not. The risk here was always going to be that the sample is so well known, it might override the rest of the song... And to an extent that is what happens. It's very difficult to listen past that, as it were. Conceptually, this is great, A for effort, but the difference between theory and reality is going to stop this sticking in my memory for any length of time.
[7]

John Seroff: Take note all you would-be Rogue Traders: THIS is how you remake a pop hit. Three degrees of separation from the original, Rihanna's take on “Tainted Love” is based more on a dancehall remake of the Soft Cell song than of the actual track, a meta-move that's quickly seen and trumped by a “Tiny Dancer” reference tossed off in the first verse. It's all very repetitive, very formulaic, and catchy as hell.
[8]


Amadou & Mariam - Coulibaly
[7.67]

John Seroff: Amadou and Mariam are a pair of blind musicians from Mali; he plays the guitar, Mariam sings. Just to up the unlikely quotient, they're also married; the only married, two-member band _I_ can think of off-hand is the long-gone Butterbeans and Susie but a BLIND, married two-member band? That's this funky? To be fair, a great deal of the funk has to be chalked up to the presence of Manu Chao, the famed French producer/performer/svengali. Manu's fingerprints are all over most of A+M's new album, notably on their first single “Senegal Fast Food” and on “Coulibaly,” a grooving and immenently danceable tune. “Coulibaly” is a real joy to listen to and accessible to just about any audience you could think of.
[9]

Doug Robertson: Is twangly a word? The spellchecker reckons not, but given some of the other words it refuses to accept as being correct its command of the English language is still open to debate. Whether it’s a real word or not, twangly is exactly what the guitars in this song are. Unfortunately exactly also covers its resemblance to background music in the holiday show of your choosing and it’s impossible to listen to it without picturing some low-rent, perma-grinning celeb walking round some market while the locals stare at them with barely disguised contempt.
[5]

Alfred Soto: Now here’s a million-dollar (okay, probably less) production that actually does the artists some good. The guitars are so buoyant, the vocals so insistently insinuating, the hooks so there, that I wish deejays blasted this from every club from Mali to Miami. But it won’t. Maybe Kanye will sample it.
[9]

Ian Mathers: Amadou & Mariam really don't deserve to fall into the World Music trap, where people treat them like a token and those who haven't actually heard the music assume several, often contradictory things about them, all patronizing. The fact is that their music, as with the artists presented on the Congotronics compilations, is wonderful whether you're in Mali, Canada or anywhere. “Coulibaly” is both an amazingly layered piece of joyous pop and, with the telegraph-wire guitar outro, a lot more daring than what you'll hear from most bands.
[8]


Kanye West - Touch the Sky
[7.83]

Alfred Soto: We Late Registration enthusiasts who worried about Kanye experiencing a commercial backlash were right: except for “Gold Digger,” none of his subsequent singles have taken. So Rock’s Latest Savior releases one of the album’s more generic tracks, a perfectly nice empowerment epic that in theory would sound after Mary J. Blige. Despite what detractors think, the public likes it when Kanye flexes his ego, especially when he’s so goshdarn cute about it.
[7]

Martin Skidmore: I would imagine that it's all but impossible to go wrong if you build your hip hop track around Curtis Mayfield's glorious and irresistible "Move On Up," one of the most luscious and gorgeous funk/party tunes ever recorded—but it doesn't seem to say a huge amount for your imagination, really. The added rapping seems very repetitive and merely pleasant—I liked it for a few lines, but it then felt like more or less the same thing over and again for the rest of the track. I think the difference between this and Ghostface's highly emotive raps over similarly ancient sweet soul tracks is that Ghostface takes off and adds to it, whereas here you may as well go to the original and get the wonderful music without the rapping but with Mayfield's sweet tones.
[7]

John Cameron: This song is right in your face. I mean, that sample is deadly. And of course, it's like a shirt that only looks good on the right person, and Kanye's incredibly magnetic personality carries it. Who else is going to quote "Leaving on a Jetplane"? And who else is going to brush off anything remotely checkered about his past by noting the irony that, without how he's screwed up, he wouldn't have as much to write about? Lupe's agility is one thing, but Kanye's clever; as I have to constantly remind my brother, Kanye's ego is backed up by tremendous hooks and rhyming ability.
[10]

Joe Macare: Cocaine is a helluva drug. Don't misunderstand me here: I'm not implying that Kanye West takes cocaine. What I mean is that “Touch the Sky” is the perfect simulation of the drug: brash, brimming with confidence, a little bit too self-obsessed and triumphalist for comfort, but hard to refuse. Equally, don't get it twisted when I say that 'Touch the Sky' marks the point at which Kanye's transformation into Puffy is essentially complete. There's none of the ambivalence that the broadsheets love him for here—he's unashamedly luxuriating in his own success, and it sounds good, especially when he drops that Cam'Ron / pink Polos line.
[8]


Nadiya - Tous Ces Mots
[8.29]

John Seroff: Holy Bejesus; this is my guilty pleasure of the year right here! Eighties as fuck, “Tous Ces Mots” is a velveetastic Godzilla powered cocktail of “Eye of the Tiger,” mindless Redman-wannabe rap breaks, a clap track that won't take no for an answer, splashy hi-hats, squealing tires and a wash of paint-by-numbers synths straight out of a John Hughes movie. It is SO good; it makes me feel like I'm racing down Broadway in a supercharged '78 Chevy Nova with a trio of topless supermodels while we all do X, chug Jack Daniels out of the bottle and power-scarf pints of Ben and Jerry's. There are also video games involved in there, somewhere. I am not being facetious here. This is what I want out of music. This is what I want out of life. I WANNA BREAK! DOWN!
[9]

Martin Skidmore: Choppy guitars, motor racing noises, an assertive rapper, energetic electro beats, singing that sounds somewhere closer to France than to North Africa—this has everything. However, throwing bits of everything at a record is not the same as incorporating all these things, and this does feel rather like a couple of other records mixed together with insufficient regard for blending, a bootleg that doesn't quite come off. I like it, but it's not quite as much as the sum of its parts.
[7]

Edward Oculicz: This is almost fantastic, kind of like a mid-point between crunk, Europop and a cheesy inspirational training-sequence montage from an 80s movie. And Nadiya’s got game, not even hinted at by any of her amicable but unremarkable earlier singles. The only thing that could possibly ruin it is a stupid interlude in English where the tempo changes… and there it is… nonetheless, almost nine-tenths a brilliant single.
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: PARIS: The music world is in shock today, after learning that hip hop producer Dr. Dre was kidnapped by a gang of French bikers. The former NWA rapper was forced at gunpoint to relinquish the beat from “In Da Club.” Dre could only weep in horror as the thrilling Nadiya, leader of les bikers, instructed her gang to annihilate the track with devastating ‘80s metal guitar and roaring speedway engines. Upon hearing a recording of the carnage, Singles Jukebox critic Jonathan Bradley observed, “I can smell the gasoline leaking out my headphones. So this is what France would be like if it had NASCAR.”
[9]


By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-03-21
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