The Singles Jukebox
Inexorable Connections



this week, Outkast have their third go at picking out a big comeback single, Audioslave are apparently shouting about something, Mary J. Blige is still quite upset, Mana break down the language barrier by being really, really boring, and Larrikin Love are seriously tempting me to start ranking the singles by uselessness band name. There's also the Tribal King single, which is currently bossing the airwaves in France, despite being bloody horrible, and which really should have come bottom this week. Instead, however, we're opening with Flyleaf, who at some point have probably been described as the Evanescence it's OK to like. We disagree. Whether that says more about us or them we're not entirely sure.


Flyleaf - Fully Alive
[Watch the Video]
[2.60]

Doug Robertson: Ever wondered what would happen if you crossed Muse with Evanesence? No, of course you haven’t. It would take a remarkably stupid and ill-informed person to think that that’s the sort of idea which could in any way be considered to be good. But depressingly for us, if not for the people who sell Nuts magazine, there’s an awful lot of remarkably stupid and ill-informed people out there and so, here’s the result of that entirely unwarranted experiment.
[4]

Martin Skidmore: Lead singer Lacey Duvalle occasionally finds an emotive moment, but the band lumbers with no fresh ideas (bar some good use of stereo at the start, perhaps) and no great energy.
[2]

Rodney J. Greene: "Fully Alive" is a delightful combination of everything I love about nu-metal and the womyn of Lilith Fair.
[0]

Joseph McCombs: Fully insipid. Oy’m ashoymed that I’m listening to this.
[3]


Scott Matthews - Elusive
[Watch the Video]
[3.40]

Jonathan Bradley: Oh, thank god. A Brit who wants to be gentle and sensitive and manages to do so without sounding like James Blunt. Sure, he’s on some straight up Jeff Buckley shit, and he leans a bit too heavily on that hushed singer-songwriter vibe that scored José González a Sony commercial, but whatever, right?
[5]

Iain Forrester: Weightless acoustic dullness that sounds like an even more soporific José González.
[3]

Hillary Brown: Strummy and floaty beats the more operatic emotional silliness of someone like Coldplay. Dude sings like Moby, though.
[5]

Joseph McCombs: I imagine people listen to stuff like this on the North Shore of Massachusetts during brunch with the fam as they discuss the new autumnal decorating lines at Pottery Barn.
[4]


Tribal King - Facon Sexe
[Watch the Video]
[3.50]

John M. Cunningham: A maximalist concoction of Euro-rave synths, barely comprehensible could-be-English rapping, and a female vocalist with the same froggy style as Shakira—and yet when I put this on at the laundromat earlier today, my mind started to severely wander. Let's call it a failed attempt at bringing le sexy back.
[2]

Doug Robertson: Oh look, it’s a French version of Mousse T’s Horny, only even more dated than that sounds. Oh well!
[4]

Hillary Brown: Defines the difference between quality and compelling, as it has some of the former but is not even close to the latter.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: Like robots having sex, and not in the good Daft Punk way.
[2]


Mana - Labios Compartidos
[Watch the Video]
[3.80]

John M. Cunningham: I'm generally happy about the encroachment of Latin American pop upon the U.S. airwaves, and with Mana's album debuting in the top five a couple weeks ago, it doesn't look like they'll be going away anytime soon. But this song reminds me that for every genuinely creative effort like Calle 13's "La Jirafa"—which pairs folk accordion with slack vocals and grandiose orchestration—there's bound to be overwrought schlock ballads like this. All my elementary Spanish can make out is "lips together, lips apart," but I have a feeling that's for the best.
[3]

Martin Skidmore: Apparently they are gigantic in Spanish-speaking parts of the US as well as Mexico. It's hard to see why.
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: Mexican Coldplay!
[4]

Iain Forrester: This is likable enough MOR, even the bit at the end that makes an attempt at being U2. I’m just disappointed that it isn’t this guy.
[5]


Larrikin Love - Happy as Annie
[Watch the Video]
[3.83]

Ian Mathers: Starts sounding a little bit country, a little bit... skiffle, but somehow the latest Brit-rock band with an eminently risible name manages to be not as annoying as you'd think, even when the chorus brings the ska. If you're thinking to yourself, “ not as annoying as you'd think isn't exactly a compliment,” give yourself a pat on the back.
[4]

Doug Robertson: To their credit they’ve crammed about three or four different songs into this one track. It would all be a bit more enjoyable if they weren’t three or four different songs we’ve all heard before by various other Liberfratshambles style bands.
[5]

John M. Cunningham: I sometimes forget that the British have a tradition of ska that doesn't automatically conjure skankin' hacky-sackers clad in Dickies, but that doesn't make this madcap jumble of ska, chirpy bluegrass, and cockney howl sound any less forced, not to mention sort of inappropriate for a song about child rape.
[3]

Jessica Popper: This is harmless indie-ska-country (a new genre?) fun with one slightly overused hook—certainly preferable to a lot of the current Radio 1 evening show type of music, but do teenagers really need any more encouragement to do that stupid ska dance where they hop around pretending to play a brass instrument? I think not. Does the “Macarena” count as retro yet? I hope so, cos it's the only dance I can do.
[5]


Audioslave - Original Fire
[Watch the Video]
[4.40]

Ian Mathers: Surely this is a cover? “Original Fire” sounds, funnily enough, like a slice of mid 70s radio rock with a thick coat of post-grunge coating applied to it; the turbine roar of the guitars are probably the best bit, as the dreadfully weak intro before Morello kicks in shows. If we must have alt-rock radio pablum, this is a pretty palatable example.
[5]

Rodney J. Greene: Chris Cornell has been talking up his new Motown influences in interviews lately, which rings true, as this sounds like nothing so much as those old rock covers of Temptations songs. It is interesting to note that, other than the gratuitous "Hi! I'm Tom Morello!" solo, this is the first time that Audioslave hasn't sounded like its constituent ex-bands.
[8]

Iain Forrester: Appalling ham-fisted attempt at funk topped off by unbearable grating vocals.
[2]

Joseph McCombs: Mantra rock! Let loose, guys. And how tragic is it that the verses rewrite Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” Disposable—and thusly disposed.
[5]


Mary J. Blige - Take Me As I Am
[Watch the Video]
[5.00]

Jonathan Bradley: The best song on Jay-Z’s proudest moment was “Dead Presidents II.” It’s a ballsy move appropriating something like that, but if anyone can do it, it’s Mary J. She plays it classy, her delivery as refined as the slow descending piano notes, and, thematically appropriately, the proceedings sounding steadfast and resilient. But this never gains appeal beyond the sample, and that’s why, as soon as “Take Me as I Am” concluded, I listened to the Jay-Z number and forgot about Blige.
[5]

Rodney J. Greene: Yes, Mary. We know.
[4]

Doug Robertson: You don’t even need to listen to this track. It’s the musical equivalent of Ronseal: functional, worthy, does exactly what it says on the tin, but entirely dull and uninteresting and unlikely to ever spark off any sort of sense of excitement, unless you’re really, really into creosote.
[2]

Hillary Brown: Her album might be too long and too much of one thing, but the singles twinkle into life like a slowly revealed planetarium display. You know there’s an artificial quality to all of it, but it wins you over nonetheless.
[6]


Howling Bells - Setting Sun
[Watch the Video]
[5.00]

Ian Mathers: This is merely decent for much of its life, but during the chorus as the song seems to half-unravel and Juanita Stein's voice really takes off. I'm not sure where the My Bloody Valentine comparisons I've read are coming from, but this is definitely good, pretty post-shoegaze rock.
[7]

John M. Cunningham: Juanita Stein has a rich, seductive purr that recalls Sonya Aurora Madan, and the slide guitar's a nice touch, too, but the whole thing's so rigid that by the three-minute mark it feels repetitious.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: I can understand the sense of accomplishment arrived at from successfully writing and recording a piece of music, but that doesn’t really mean you should inflict it on the world without, you know, considering whether it is at all interesting. I doubt even Howling Bells manage to remember how this track goes.
[2]

Joseph McCombs: The girl’s voice reminds me a lot of Susanna Hoffs, exacerbated by the ’60s psychedelia meets Mazzy Star feel of the track (I’m in love with Susanna’s recent cover adventures with Matthew Sweet, and it’s a short path from there to here). Go back and listen to the haunting background vocals at the very beginning, they’re marvy and scary. I should be high while listening to this. Oh wait, I am. Bonus points!
[7]


Taylor Swift - Tim McGraw
[Watch the Video]
[5.80]

Doug Robertson: “When you think Tim McGraw, I hope you think of me,” sings Miss Swift in this by the numbers slice of generic country whining, and we can only concur, as the best thing to do when you think of Tim McGraw is to immediately think of someone else lest you pull out your own brain in frustration at his sheer mediocrity. It’s probably best not to dwell on Taylor Swift for too long either, though. It’ll end up in much the same way.
[3]

Jonathan Bradley: I have the sneaking suspicion Taylor Swift named “Tim McGraw” for Tim McGraw simply so she could have a song named for Tim McGraw, rather than for any integral role the country star plays in the track’s narrative. Ostensibly, the boy for whom this song is written (the one who isn’t McGraw) should be thinking of the girl who sings this song (Swift) whenever he thinks of the boy for whom this song is written (McGraw). The boy (not McGraw) should be jealous, and the boy (McGraw) should be proud; the girl sounds a catch and this is at least as good as anything as McGraw has created himself.
[8]

John M. Cunningham: It's no secret that hip-hop and country share some traits: for instance, both genres are more concerned with topicality and narrative than rock usually is. On "Tim McGraw" country proves it's also willing to name-drop other country artists, even if it's not at the same level as The Game's "Dreams." What I like about this song, though—besides its warm, bittersweet tone—is that it never actually talks about McGraw at all. Though Swift is a teenager who must have idolized the handsome Nashville star growing up, his role in the song isn't as an object of worship but as the locus of a pool of memories that are much bigger than a glossy poster or a video on CMT. At its root, "Tim McGraw" is about how we use music in our life, and the inexorable connections it creates.
[7]

Martin Skidmore: I saw this on the list and assumed it was the wrong way round, but it's a song referencing one of the biggest contemporary country stars by a new young woman. It's pretty trad, which I like, and she's a quality singer. I wish the song had a bit more sharpness or a good chorus, but it's a pretty classy debut.
[6]


Stanton Warriors ft. Sway - Get 'em High
[Watch the Video]
[5.80]

Rodney J. Greene: Sway isn't quite Dizzee Rascal and Stanton Warriors are sure as hell no Basement Jaxx, so perhaps asking for another "Lucky Star" is a little too much.. "Get 'em High" sounds nice when it's playing, with Sway delivering a few choice lines and the Warriors laying down techy garage stutters, but offers no memorable hooks, in either the greater or lesser senses of the term.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Sway works admirably to counter the disadvantage of having to rap over deeply generic clubby electronica, but in the end the production succeeds in pummeling him into submission.
[3]

Martin Skidmore: It's a bit unfortunate that this comes out at the same time as the new Basement Jaxx album, as it is fairly similar territory, and not quite in the same all-time-great class. Having said that, this is very good indeed, Sway delivering very nimbly and with energy, as we expect, and the Stantons providing terrific music, strong house-garage beats.
[9]

Joseph McCombs: I can identify with this, since my life ain’t always been cozio. If those glimpses of retro cowbell effects were a little more pronounced I’d find this fun, but as it is I can merely be impressed that Sway rhymes “Sinatra” with “Ghana.”
[5]


Outkast - Idlewild Blue
[Watch the Video]
[6.40]

Rodney J. Greene: "Some call it the baby blues" is an interesting line coming from a musician who, more and more, seems headed down the Michael path of suspended childhood. This sounds like an innocent's interpretation of that most painful of genres, and large portions of it are pinched from a better song. But, much like the Idlewild movie, due to its willingness to be goofy and anachronistic, it works in spite of Andre's devout pigheadedness.
[6]

John M. Cunningham: It's not a bad country-blues ditty—the spooky synths at the end and half-quote of "Higher Ground" at the top even give it a postmodern edge— and I'm sure it makes for a charming sequence in the film, which I haven't seen. But if this is the best Andre and Antwan can do for a radio single these days, then all the calls to break up already aren't premature in the least.
[5]

Hillary Brown: This tips too far into nostalgia, and it’s a real shame that it does, as it would have been great to see someone do something interesting with the Cab Calloway thing. Not a great single, but it has a few flashes of promise.
[4]

Joseph McCombs: “Blues” is easily the best of Idlewild’s singles to date, and I find myself wishing it’d been selected as the first single instead of “Mighty O.” It’s got it all: a great riff to run into the ground, some deceptive wordplay (“I know I’m your son, won’t you let me shine?”), and some deliciously out-of-place synth bleats on the coda.
[9]


New Young Pony Club - Ice Cream
[Watch the Video]
[6.50]

Doug Robertson: Bored, clipped, Miss Kittin-esque vocals, sharp, choppy guitars, pointy fake drums, and a bass-line that’s so laid back it’s practically rolled up linoleum. What’s not to love?! You, too, should join the hordes of obnoxious eight year old girls and demand your pony too.
[8]

Martin Skidmore: I guess twee and cutesy indie is slightly more tolerable with a fairly pumping electro-pop musical backing, but such backing would be much better with just about anything else up front. The female singer here is particularly lifeless—some pop bounce in her voice could rescue this pretty hopeless song, or maybe a Miss Kittin teutonic coldness could work too (she's closer to that, but without the strength), but 'tuneless and expressionless' doesn't cut it at all.
[3]

Rodney J. Greene: Between this and CSS, I've discovered that I'm a complete sucker for sexy-voiced-girl dance-punk with more emphasis on the "dance" than the "punk." Our luck that they skip many of the cooler-than-thou-isms inherent in the genre, in favor of just giving the listener something delectable.
[7]

John M. Cunningham: Despite boasting a name that sounds like a posh rapper's clothing imprint, NYPC have a winning disco-punk flair, and "Ice Cream," with its semi-detached vocals, innuendo-laden lyrics, and steady 122 BPM, would make a good DJ-set companion to the DFA remix of Le Tigre's "Deceptacon." How do I join?
[8]


Nelly Furtado - No Hay Igual
[Watch the Video]
[7.33]

Jessica Popper: This isn't as poptastic as "Maneater" or "Promiscuous" (my surprise fave of the two, considering it's more R&B) but it definitely gets stuck in my brain, even if I can never remember more than the title line and "what it is," which is of course the only bit in English. It will be great if she can achieve a UK hit in Spanish, as it's not something we see often and I love to see foreign-language tracks doing well here, where record-buyers tend to stick to what they know.
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: I’m a little confused about the linguistics of this track; Furtado’s background is Portuguese, but she’s apparently fluent enough in Spanish to competently record a song in the language. Could the artist who complained of people trying to “shove away [her] ethnicity” be blurring the Iberian Peninsula’s borders in pursuit of more lucrative markets? Her Spanish-language bid is terribly slight, built simply on percolating percussion and the kind of synth sounds Timbo knows will be there for him at even his lowest moments, but the hook has remarkable staying power.
[7]

John M. Cunningham: I have to admit, I don't really buy the complaints about Nelly Furtado having sold out by using booty-shakin' beats and making her sex appeal overt. One thing I like about "No Hay Igual," along with her other recent singles, is that I can still sense, beneath the astounding Afro-Cuban clatter and serpentine synths, the sweet girl next door. Hearing her sing in Spanish is just so gosh-darn cute.
[8]

Ian Mathers: This may not quite be the absolute monster “Promiscuous” and “Maneater” are, but damn if it's not mighty fine itself. Like every other Canadian I'm a little shocked at Furtado's emergence as an actual pop musician/star, but it's a very pleasant kind of surprise, and as long as she keeps making these kinds of singles I guess we'll just have to live with it.
[8]


Marit Bergman - No Party
[Watch the Video]
[7.40]

Doug Robertson: Marit has no party to go to, perhaps because the hosts fear that if they do invite her along there’s a very real danger she’ll whip out a guitar and try and ‘entertain’ the other guests.
[4]

Jessica Popper: Marit is not as commercial as your typical Swedish pop princess, but her music is just as poptastic and her new single, the first from her forthcoming third album, the wonderfully titled I Think it's a Rainbow, is as ace as ever. Marit is a very inventive, emotive and original singer, and despite her musical background (she used to sing in a punk band called Candysuck) she still makes catchy tunes which are recognizable as her own and have won her many awards in her home country—hopefully the new material will have the same success.
[9]

Ian Mathers: Poor Marit—there's an unutterable sadness even beyond the explicit feeling conveyed by the lyrics here, a sense that Marit has “no friends in this town” not just because she moved recently, and her stated willingness to settle for “anyone” is heartbreaking.
[9]

Iain Forrester: Marit has “a party to go to and no friends in this town,” but the music is interestingly at odds with her worries. Perfectly applied bubbly keyboards and contrasting rock choruses, together with her understated performance, have it still sounding like a fun night out.
[7]


Najoua Belyzel - Je Ferme Les Yeux
[Watch the Video]
[7.60]

Doug Robertson: Lovely Dance is a genre that’s never really caught on, if only because we’ve just made it up this very second, but it covers the sort of electro style songs which are ace, but you could never actually imagine actually dancing too, what with them being a bit too, well, lovely to actually move to. This is a great example of what we’re talking about, all fantastic, stylish and synthy—just don’t put it on if you want to get your dancefloor jumping.
[7]

Jessica Popper: Najoua's last single, “Gabriel,” is among my favorites of the year so far and the follow-up, although it took a few listens to grow on me, is no disappointment. Unlike a lot of French music, Najoua's tunes are exciting, original, and generally lovely.
[9]

Ian Mathers: Take off a couple of points if you don't share my love for grainy synths (evinced everywhere from here to, err, “Crunk Muzik”), but even then “Je Ferme Les Yeux” is pretty wonderful, a steady dancefloor stomp and some impassioned, tuneful wailing from our heroine. I have no idea what she's singing about but when the results are this much fun, who cares?
[7]

Iain Forrester: The mingling throb and twinkle of the keyboards here is rather great. But what really sells it, and sounds more fantastic with every repeat listen, is Belyzel’s vocals. The melding of the title into one single lilting word (“jefermilizzyu”) is a particularly exquisite fit to the dazzling chorus backing.
[8]


Check out the Singles Jukebox podcast to hear some of the tracks talked about here.


By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-09-19
Comments (2)
 

 
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