The Singles Jukebox
Lost in the Fortress of Solitude



after a week off we come a-bouncing and a-booming back into action to witness Cassie enter the “difficult second single” phase of her career, discover Moby finding a way to make himself just that bit more fannyish, and see if we get won over by Weird Al's unexpectedly chart-stomping return. There's also a second appearance for the MIA that aren't dressed by their mum and a mini-80's revival with songs from Meat Loaf, Nena and, er... well, the Pet Shop Boys are from the 80's too, so, y'know. First, though, “America” by Razorlight is unaccountably not at the bottom of this week's pile. Instead...


Papa Roach - To Be Loved
[Watch the Video]
[3.14]

Joseph McCombs: You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.
[0]

Martin Skidmore: I watch a lot of American wrestling, so I can muster a bit of affection for this. Its quite energetic hard rock/metal guitars sound like it would be better entrance music for a wrestler, or a theme for “WWE Raw,” than most of the lame standard-issue modern metal they use. However, “not bad for a 30-second wrestler's intro piece” is far from “a great record over three minutes.”
[4]

Erick Bieritz: On one hand it was inevitable that histrionic active rock would eventually succumb to Vans-for-the-soul platitudes, but it’s too bad it had to be Papa Roach, a band that was always the second or third least-intolerable of that lot. On the other hand, “I’ve got a jet black heart / It’s all fucked up and it’s falling apart” is a pretty solid way of disengaging from the nu-metal teat and scooting furtively toward the greener pastures of My Chemical Romance’s extended friend network.
[6]

Kevin J. Elliott: Guys it’s 2006, you don’t have to promise me “the next level” with some leftover frat-rap from the nu-metal glory days. Calm down, the song’s perfectly digestible.
[5]


Akon ft. Eminem - Smack That
[Watch the Video]
[3.43]

Rodney J. Greene: Is Akon's strategy here to make himself look good by dragging out someone less welcome than himself? Yikes.
[3]

Hillary Brown: Akon could totally release a song called “Date Rape” and manage to sell it with that sweet, sweet voice. “Smack That” doesn’t live up to the standard set by the singles from his first album, but it maintains the same kind of repetition and theft from both dance and crunk, so hopes remain high.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: Akon, has to be one of pop music’s least sexy R&B artists. His breakthrough single had him bemoaning a prison sentence—no women there—and he followed that up with a plaintive whine declaring himself “Mr. Lonely.” Eminem’s erotica, meanwhile, vacillates between sounding perverted (“Shake That”) and infantile (“Ass Like That”). “Smack That,” then, helmed by a divorcee and an ex-felon (in their musical personae at least) turns its cold shower beat into a come-on just as ghastly as expected.
[2]

Mallory O’Donnell: The best thing about Akon is that he sounds no more multi-dimensional than the hollow synths he's paired with—like he's just another sound effect coming from the Korg.
[4]


Sugarland - Want To
[Watch the Video]
[3.80]

Joseph McCombs: Booting the big butch girl from the lineup may have won them some points on CMT, but since they lost a good songwriter in the process, they’re stuck with material this painfully safe. I bet the studio smelled like Febreze when they got done recording.
[5]

Erick Bieritz: Country isn’t the most despised genre among many non-country fans because of geography or even its many clichés. It’s hated because of its fathomless appetite for middling go-nowhere rot like this.
[2]

Jonathan Bradley: I thought this had absolutely nothing going for it until about halfway through the first verse when it occurred to me that it could actually be a country song. Sure enough, the chorus kicks in and out comes the twang; big dollops of sweet country melody befitting an outfit named Sugarland. The rest of the track nestles comfortably alongside the dregs of modern rock radio, though.
[4]

Kevin J. Elliott: Country for doctor’s office waiting rooms.
[0]


Nena ft. Duncan Townsend - Caravan of Love
[Watch the Video]
[3.83]

M.H. Lo: Say what you will about the Housemartins’ smurfy cover of the Isley Jasper Isley classic, but at least it didn’t—as Nena and friend decided to—tragically rawk the song out. The bizarre result sounds less like an inspirational rally cry, and more like a threat: everybody take a stand…before I run over your fucking legs with this caravan here. Shall we say “misguided”?
[3]

Joseph McCombs: A timeless message, covers of which can nevertheless hardly be said to be “necessary” unless they’re going someplace new, which Nena and her friend certainly aren’t. With so little urgency, I can hardly get up to get onboard.
[4]

Ian Mathers: It's not just that this is drippy hippie bullshit, it's that it's drippy hippie bullshit polished to a high, boring gloss in the studio, complete with the kind of pointlessly overstuffed production that brings to mind the 90s.
[2]

Iain Forrester: Between this and Captain, the Deacon Blue revival is ON.
[6]


Meat Loaf & Marion Raven - It's All Coming Back to Me Now
[Watch the Video]
[4.00]

Joseph McCombs: The best song Celine Dion ever had returns to its rightful owner, and Mr. Loaf does exactly what you’d expect him to do with it, which is unsubtle and great. Unfortunately, Marion Raven is a rote sub–Jennifer Warnes singer and a subpar foil, making nothing at all out of love.
[5]

Martin Skidmore: He's always liked his big duets, and this is not untypical of the ballad end of that strand of his career. Big overblown bits and dramatic quieter bits, building up and falling back again. Of course, I do feel like I've heard more or less this record from him ten times before.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: “Meatloaf. My most hated of all loafs.” – Bart Simpson.
[3]

Rodney J. Greene: Meat Loaf finally tackles the song he was meant to sing [insert backstory here] and the result is surprisingly low-key, which means he's scaled down from gargantuan to mammoth. It could use a few more moments of gold and flashes of light, but hey, it's not Celine Dion. And that counts for something, right?
[5]


Razorlight - America
[Watch the Video]
[4.00]

Iain Forrester: Razorlight continue to get more pompous and useless with every single, here imbuing every turgid line with a grating faux-gravitas.
[1]

M.H. Lo: Although I understand the bile directed at Razorlight (they’re derivative, they’re poseurs, they eat puppies, etc.), I find it hard to get too worked up about them. My secret, if you must know, is simply to think of them as making 70s-inflected soft rock, like they’re just another Feeling. “America,” for one, becomes perfectly inoffensive and even pleasant that way. Try it today, readers.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: As bearable as this is, Brandon Flowers is still killing these guys at the vaguely-meaningful-statements-about-the-United-States-over-U2-guitar game.
[4]

Martin Skidmore: A power ballad minus all the power.
[1]


I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness - According to Plan
[Watch the Video]
[4.67]

Martin Skidmore: Texans who wish they were in Manchester 25 years ago, wannabe Joy Division/New Order types. They don't have the former's compelling intensity, nor the latter's way with a pop tune and a disco beat, sadly, which doesn't leave that much to be interested in.
[2]

Ian Mathers: If you're going for mood over punch this is perfect, a big hazy mass with the occasional suggestive refrain.
[7]

Hillary Brown: There is more to this song than just the bass line? Nuh-uh. All the melty keyboards and sensitive vocals don’t offend; they merely fade away and let the bass vamp for the duration.
[4]

Mallory O’Donnell: All the wrong 80's moves in all the wrong places. Extra points deducted for ridiculously bullshit name.
[1]


Moby & Mylene Farmer - Crier La Vie
[Watch the Video]
[4.83]

Kevin J. Elliott: Even Moby owns the Knife album. (He likes to play it at 45.)
[5]

Erick Bieritz: By bumping out beats that make Royksopp’s advertisements as edgy as Suicide by comparison, and tinkling the piano bridge so gingerly that even Chris Martin winces and crosses his legs a bit, this could at the very best be read as a smirking challenge to remixers, daring them to take this rain-dampened briquette and produce a spark of fire, dance floor or otherwise.
[3]

M.H. Lo: In which Moby (boo!) enlists the help of Mylene (yay!) to redo a song, called “Slipping Away,” that first appeared in English as an electro-ballad on Hotel (boo!), but has now been revamped into a bilingual stomper (yay!), albeit one with a rather tired electroclash riff (boo!). So, um, yay? Boo? I think I’ve confused myself.
[6]

Mallory O’Donnell: I suppose Moby wants to get back in the club, now that he's conquered the coffeeshop and Pinot Noir sets. If "Crier La Vie" is his "Mama Said Knock You Out," I'll take my Red Bull and Vodka out on the back porch.
[2]


Weird Al Yankovic - White & Nerdy
[Watch the Video]
[6.00]

Ian Mathers: Weird Al is very difficult to score, because he makes novelty music. I don’t want to judge the practice as a whole (as most of the genre is pretty odious), but he has been at it a while; he nails Chamillionaire’s flow much better than you’d expect, but ultimately either you’re the sort of person who finds lines like “My rims never spin, to the contrary / You’ll find that they’re quite stationary” or “Spend my nights with a roll of bubble wrap / Pop, pop, hope no one sees me” humorous, or you’re not. Some people would tell you that the former are examples of people who probably shouldn’t be allowed outdoors, but this is as transiently entertaining as the original, and you have to give the man credit for knowing his fan base.
[6]

Rodney J. Greene: Weird Al usurps Chamillionaire's "Ridin'" to dissect nerd culture, imitating both Cham and Krayzie Bone with complete competence, landing jabs at geekdom left and right and frequently leaving me ROTFLOL. All in all, the first non-cringeworthy thing he's done in a decade.
[7]

Iain Forrester: The targets for this are rather safe and easy. Chess club? Renaissance fairs? It’s only the fact that every joke is directed at himself that allows him to get away with it.
[6]

Jonathan Bradley: Read the lyrics. Good, now you don’t have to hear the song.
[2]


Bugz In The Attic - Don't Stop the Music
[Watch the Video]
[6.17]

Erick Bieritz: If this diva-wailing, jittery-buzzer-beats, pop-dance deregulation means Baby Jaxxes are flooding the market, then they can be forgiven for tearing a few pages from the playbooks of Messrs. Ratcliffe and Buxton. A more cynical mind would say that Bugz in the Attic is hardly doing anything new or stunning here anyway, but more cynical minds don’t have much business commenting on chart pop.
[7]

M.H. Lo: You’ve got to appreciate the effort to do more than a faithful, straight-up cover of the Yarbrough and Peoples song. But the minute Bugz in the Attic decided to chop up the original’s distinctive, rubbery bassline, and lay the jittery electrofied result over one of their broken beats, the battle was already lost. Near the end, there are some nice pizzicato strings, but the shouty Basement Jaxx bits just seem desperate, and make the whole shebang a bit of a hot mess.
[3]

Kevin J. Elliott: I can’t tell if this is a slick space disco re-working of the original or a full-blown cover; that ambiguity makes this track all the better. When the afro-pixie chant (“You don’t really wanna’ stop”) comes along at two minutes, the beats get Squarepusher sick. Maybe this will help spark the resurrection of Yarbrough & Peoples, Zapp & Roger, and the entire neglected world of early 80’s street funk.
[10]

Hillary Brown: Please do. Fraggle Rock as inspiration is not an automatic disqualification, but it is here.
[2]


Pet Shop Boys - Numb
[Watch the Video]
[6.50]

Mallory O’Donnell: This song was written for them, and you can tell—it has none of the Boys' own cherished multiplicity of meaning. Does what it says on the tin, gets out, and damned if I can be bothered about it. Terrible choice for a single from an otherwise fine album.
[3]

Kevin J. Elliott: Once the glacial synths met the pompous orchestra at the center of this song, I actually felt numb. Lost in the Fortress of Solitude.
[7]

Erick Bieritz: “Numb” glides along on a gigantic velvet-lined hovercraft with all the subtlety one could expect from such a process. The duo has succeeded best when understated messages of vulnerability played counterpoint to overblown steamroller pop, but the latter without the former leaves them glaringly, startlingly naked here.
[4]

M.H. Lo: Like many Pet Shop Boys tracks, the lyric and music of “Numb” work beautifully together by working at cross-purposes. While Neil sings about wanting to feel emotionally deadened (in the context of the album, this desire is further cast as a coping mechanism in the face of our world’s political turmoil), the dramatically orchestrated music serves as a stand-in for that turmoil (it’s the sound of shit hitting the fan). Until the moment, at the 3:12 mark, when all the music drops out: then, Neil seemingly gets his wish, and he and the world are perfectly still and numb for a second. But that world sounds like an impoverished one, and the song therefore has at its heart an ambivalence that makes it interestingly complex.
[8]


MIA - Uhlala
[Watch the Video]
[6.60]

Mallory O’Donnell: No, not M.I.A. Instead a playful bit of guitar-led pop sung by a German chanteuse. Very, very pretty. And twice as easy to forget.
[6]

Joseph McCombs: Nothing against MIA, but I’d like the backing track as a standalone instrumental, only leaving in her wordless “ahhh” harmonies. The song’s a chilly nighttime drive, passing Everything But the Girl on the freeway and not waving hi.
[7]

Ian Mathers: This isn't unpleasant (her voice sounds nice, if nothing else), but chorus is a damp squib and it's far too long. Meandering acoustic tracks aren't any better when they're in another language.
[4]

Erick Bieritz: It seems like MIA deserves a better fate than “no, not the ‘Galang’ woman, the other ones.” That “Heroes” cover from a few years ago was pretty good, and “Uhlala” possesses the sort of understated nine-volt pop charm that only rarely bubbles up to the surface of the charts. But if pop nomenclature is enough to prevent MIA from ever going worldwide, perhaps they can at least pave the way for a Minogue-esque era of Prussian chart rule by Barbara Morgenstern. Wave the black, red, and gold and will it to be true.
[8]


Paulina Rubio - Ni Una Sola Palabria
[Watch the Video]
[6.80]

Joseph McCombs: The first two strums, I mistook for “Constant Craving.” Doesn’t quite hit that song’s highs, but this is marvelously produced, especially the contrast of the drums’ spurts of enormity to Rubio’s pleasantly restrained demeanor. Whatever she’s feeling, she keeps under tight wraps.
[6]

M.H. Lo: On a first hearing, this sounded like one of those chugging songs that, with an English lyric, might just help someone become the next second-rate pop-rock chick. But further listens reveal the little touches that lift the song above the generic: the kicky drums that jump-start the song at the end of the first verse; the power guitar riff that takes us into each chorus; the heavenly way Paulina’s vocals are double-tracked on those choruses, as well as in the line just before the riff; and the ah-ah-ah-ahs that conclude the song with just the right amount of drama. In other words: average songwriting, top-notch production.
[7]

Hillary Brown: Rubio’s tune is the result of a drunken Tijuana motel room assignation between Destiny’s Child and the Doors, and it manages to top at least the latter by a good distance.
[6]

Kevin J. Elliott: Latin Pop is becoming a wild blend of amphetamine Ennio Morricone, Japanese bubblegum, and spooky Cocteau Twins ambience. First La Oreja de Van Gogh, now this. The Theremin effect, disguised as the whistling wind, is a nice touch.
[8]


Cassie - Long Way 2 Go
[Watch the Video]
[6.80]

Rodney J. Greene: Eye roll. Flick of the hand. Suitor dismissed. That's how cool Cassie plays it. While she's a bit more interesting as hunter ("Me & U") than as object of the hunt, her offhanded rejections make Ciara look warm-blooded by comparison.
[7]

Martin Skidmore: The dismissive way she addresses some aspiring boyfriend makes the currently fashionable finger-snapping backing call up images of Cassie clicking her fingers in his face. The production is very good, sparse and with a confident mix of strings and synths, and she delivers it beautifully, somewhere between rapping and R&B singing, not unlike Ciara's "Goodies," say, and with an appropriate coldness.
[9]

Hillary Brown: What comes after the summer jam? The fur-collared coat worn with flip-flops. This song has a combination of snuggliness and frost that gives it a nice little fall bounce.
[6]

Mallory O’Donnell: Would you have thought she'd even make it to a second single? Nah, me neither.
[3]


Beyonce - Irreplaceable
[Watch the Video]
[7.17]

Rodney J. Greene: Beyonce and co-writer Ne-Yo make up for the somewhat staid production with stacks of quotables. “To the left, to the left / Everything you own in the box to the left,“ and "Keep talkin' that mess, that's fine / Could you walk and talk at the same time?" are unleashed in just the opening moments. She complements this with a wonderfully nuanced performance, her voice sliding and punching and receding and letting loose at all the right moments.
[8]

Iain Forrester: Not being actively annoying is enough to make this a superior kind of Beyoncé ballad. Surprisingly, it does more, winning something close to sympathy despite the central sentiment that it will be really easy for her to find a man.
[6]

Kevin J. Elliott: I used to tag my Beyonce singles under the heading “bumpers” in my iPod. Unfortunately, B’Day doesn’t have many of those. The chorus is the only thing saving this tragic story of Ms. Knowles addiction to a male escort service, knowing that in reality she’s with Hova in South France the whole time.
[4]

M.H. Lo: How great is this song? It’s so great that it makes me want to take a job at the Department of Motor Vehicles, just so that I can do Beyoncé’s finger dance from the video as I implore people to form orderly queues by going, “To the left, to the left!” A job, people. At the DMV. That’s how great this is.
[9]


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


By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-10-17
Comments (2)
 

 
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