The Singles Jukebox
Trevor Horn’s New Chums



something of a stunning return to form this week, with nine songs scoring higher than last week's winner. Among these are Trevor Horn's new chums, the return of Jenny Lewis's lovely hair, Imogen Heap bravely attempting to make use of musical instruments, The Dixie Chicks being rather cross, and the Marisa Monte single, which it should be pointed out is actually well lush and really should have won this week easily. Oh well. Our first piece of fun comes with attempting to introduce The Beautiful South to non-British ears. The results are what you'd expect... more or less...


The Beautiful South - Manchester
[3.40]

Jonathan Bradley: “Manchester” should not be so terrible considering the similarities it shares with comparably precious groups like The Lucksmiths, but when the supposedly witty lyrics have little more to say than, “Gee, it sure does rain a lot in England,” aspects like the dumb “radiator/greater” rhyme cease to be endearing and become painful. It doesn’t help, either, that the production is so Teflon slick that it could outrun a greased Scotsman.
[1]

John M. Cunningham: I haven't actually heard the Beautiful South before now, so I'm not sure whether it's a coincidence, in this jaunty tribute to Manchester, that Paul Heaton resembles a high-pitched Morrissey in places. (I suppose it's just the common accent.) I have, however, spent enough time in the titular city to know that he's right about its rain—though I'd be happier if the song didn't sound like such a dear-old-England Kinks knock-off.
[4]

Koen Sebregts: I'm about two weeks away from my yearly trip to Manchester (for work, but usually combined with much pleasure). Which may very well be why I'm so taken with this song. It's nothing special, musically or lyrically, but as it glides by it leaves me in a much improved mood every time. This in spite of the fact that the song's central message ('it always rains in Manchester', basically) means little to nothing to me. Whenever I visit (always late May), the weather's always fair, if not splendid. If whining about the weather is what makes Britain great, the Beautiful South are greater.
[8]

Martin Skidmore: I've always hated this lot, and the plinky music put my back up straight away. Heaton is a pretty good singer, but the simple-minded pop tune combined with the usual lyrical style, which always makes me cringe or want to punch him (this one is on the violence end—actually, most of them are), means this is no more tolerable than the rest of their horrible oeuvre.
[0]


Brahim - P.O.W.E.R.
[4.00]

Koen Sebregts: Yes, this finished mid-table during Belgium's Eurovision national finals, and it's easy to hear why: the lyrics go from well-meaning and earnest to utterly non-sensical ("we got the right to stand up and fight for the sake of the innocent children who fry"?), and the music tries to be a lot of things at once: poweurful, street-smart, ánd ESC-friendly, sadly failing on all three counts. The Belgian jury actually wanted to send this off to the contest in Kiev, before the more sensible tele-voting public stepped up and decided on Kate Ryan, who actually has a chance of winning the thing.
[3]

Ian Mathers: Another Belgian Eurovision hopeful? This one is helped by a nice drum/flute backing on the chorus, and the production manages to just skirt the edge of cluttered without crossing over. The lyrics are, uh, “daring” enough to be anti-war and anti-dead children, but other than that (and Brahim almost outing himself as a PLUR raver!) there's nothing there. And once you get used to the busy nature of the backing, the same is true of the song as a whole.
[5]

Edward Oculicz: An absolute mess—seemingly created by throwing several immiscible elements together believing that they can be meshed through charisma. A bit strum, a bit smooth, a bit street. Needed a better, hookier chorus to tie its various loose ends together. A failure, but a fairly entertaining failure, although the shouty breakdown is a bit on the embarrassing side, even to listen to. Double the score if you like absurdity.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: E.S.L. lyrics get a pass when they’re cute, but if the goal is serious social commentary, words that make Pink look politically astute are inexcusable. Brahim are Belgian, so I doubt they, or their audience, speak English as their first language. They couldn’t possibly expect such a bland concoction of loud synths and bad rapping to successfully cross over to an international market. Why on earth, then, would they saddle their track with naff protesting like “I got the right to speak my mind / Share thoughts with the majority / Cause I stand for equality”?
[2]


Thalia - Seduccion
[4.60]

John M. Cunningham: A frothy cup of Mexican club-pop from the current Mrs. Tommy Mottola, although its bounciness doesn't disguise the fact that it's virtually indistinguishable from the majority of global dance hits. (So score one for Mariah, although I'd wager the new wife is less maintenance.) Also try the video, if only for its airbrushed Revlon commercial-meets-Eyes Wide Shut aesthetic.
[5]

Hillary Brown: This is only four minutes long? There is no way this song clocks in that short. It’s mostly the kind of repetition that I can get into, the kind that my unconscious brain nods my head to while my conscious brain goes about its other business, but there does come a point when I snap back in and it feels like the tune’s been looping for half an hour.
[4]

Martin Skidmore: This is fine dance-pop of a Latin American tendency by Argentina's answer to Madonna or Britney. I don't care for the odd vocoder effect (I never do), but otherwise this is really good, bouncy and very well sung, with bags of energy. Great fun.
[8]

Iain Forrester: Relentlessly perky dance which feels like eating so much sugar you get a headache, even before the horrible bit at 2:30 where the singer seems to turn into a fire alarm.
[4]


Chris Brown - Gimme That
[4.80]

Hillary Brown: Neither the pumping excitement of “Run It” nor the cute come-on of “Yo,” this is an acceptable entrée in the Chris Brown oeuvre, and it does not diminish his adorableness, but it also doesn’t do anything to increase it. Theoretically possible to dance to, and I wouldn’t skip it on the CD. He can do better.
[5]

Jonathan Bradley: This is a lot like “Run It,” except it doesn’t have Juelz Santana and instead of sounding like Usher’s “Yeah!” it sounds like Scott Storch’s “Generic Scott Storch Beat.” In the battle for R&B teen prodigy supremacy, the only thing keeping Chris Brown in the race with the smarter, but too slick Ne-Yo, is that he’s willing to sound a bit grittier. When that grit consists of saying “‘Lac” a lot, it doesn’t really amount to much.
[4]

Ian Mathers: Yes, you're sixteen. We get it.
[3]

Koen Sebregts: The downward curve for Chris Brown's singles continues; "Run it" was great, "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)" was mediocre, and this fails to register any impression at all. Except for the lyrics, that hit me like a bomb: "you may be three years older but you're hot". Chris Brown is 16 years old. The girl he's talking about is, using my sharp deductive skills here, 19. Trust me (a man twice your age), Chris: nothing is hotter than a 19-year-old girl. (Did I really just say that?)
[4]


Bersuit Vergarabat - Sencillamente
[5.40]

Hillary Brown: Not sure how this is not a rip-off of “Besame Mucho,” but it is sort of charmingly Latin and prowly. Too long by a bit, though, and sadly lacking in big South American acoustic guitars.
[5]

Ian Mathers: When looking them up, I keep hearing how experimental and wild Bersuit are, how they play “underground transgressor rock” and write about marginalisation of all sorts. Which is all well and good, and it's possible “Sencillamente” is merely the ringer on the Argentine version of Kid A or what have you, but all I'm hearing is a lazily pleasant mid-tempo stroll that's a few minutes too long for maximum effectiveness. Lovely group vocals on some of the refrains, though.
[6]

Edward Oculicz: The right word to describe the rhythm of this song is "waddling," but after a few listens it's actually rather close to being so dense it's intoxicating. The comedy ethnic croon is in fact rich and nuanced, the organ and guitar backing is slick and what it lacks in hooks it makes up in lazy chair-swaying potential.
[7]

Iain Forrester: Bluesy sway with a cracked, weary vocal which does an excellent job of conjuring up a smoky, dim-lit but not too dingy bar. It’s probably not the most unique bar in the world but is a decidedly pleasant place to be for a while, although perhaps not the length of time that Bersuit wish.
[6]


Imogen Heap - Goodnight & Go
[5.50]

Jonathan Bradley: It is entirely unreasonable to expect Imogen Heap to continually replicate the tricks that made “Hide and Seek” so entrancing, but “Goodnight and Go” is at its best when it is most reminiscent of Heap’s previous single; the most gorgeous parts are the whispers and harmonies dancing through the track. The jaunty glitch-pop of the instrumentation, however, seems far too self-conscious and contrived, even if it does intermittently arrive at a kind of harmless catchiness. It’s heartbreaking when Heap coos, “Why’d you have to be so cute?” but the music doesn’t care; it just continues with its bloopy-skritch-splerk.
[6]

John M. Cunningham:Right now, with the trees in bloom and my own love life looking up, I'm perhaps more susceptible than usual to a song about an innocent, weak-kneed crush. Still, I wish that this follow-up to "Hide and Seek" had some of that song's heart-stopping austerity: despite a brief Daft Punk-ish liquid-guitar solo, Heap's ethereal charms wind up obscuring more than they reveal.
[6]

Martin Skidmore: Quirky adult pop-rock with acoustic guitars and strings and stuff and odd yodelly bits in the vocal. I am of the opinion that we have more than we need of this already. She's a better singer than most of her ilk, but this is still more irritating than pleasant.
[3]

Jessica Popper: Imogen Heap has made some great songs, but I'm a little less keen on this one for some reason. The "why'd you have to be so cute" refrain walks the line between sweet and annoying, and the song is catchy, but seems to lack togetherness or some kind of structure that would make all the different bits fit together.
[7]


Indochine - Ladyboy
[5.75]

Iain Forrester: Sounds rather like Mansun circa the glam prog glory of Six, complete with a heavily distorted and slightly creepy piano backing, a much creepier children’s choir, some kind of chainsaw in the background, and ridiculously awkward sudden shifts between sections. In French. I may be alone in seeing all of this as completely A Good Thing.
[9]

Martin Skidmore: There haven't been many good records with school-kid backing vocals (obvious current exception: DJ Daz—perhaps this is France's Eurovision entry, though the title makes this implausible), and this doesn't buck the trend. It's in French, and from the title I reckon I'm probably happier not knowing what they are on about. It drones on for a while and they throw some lala-ing children at it (as a substitute for writing a chorus) and bung in a few funny noises, but it's very dreary stuff that never takes off.
[3]

Ian Mathers: Apparently Indochine were an 80s cult band in France, and this is their comeback; fittingly enough, it brought to mind Depeche Mode's recent singles. It's also surprisingly great; all spookily echoed piano and kids choir (a device I normally hate, but as long as you restrict them to ghostly “la la la la la”s I'm a fan) with a strong backbeat and lead vocal. Darkly poppy and atmospheric, without ever giving the dreaded whiff of Goth.
[7]

Hillary Brown: That distorted piano mixed with the creepy little kids on the chorus and the dance beat could almost make this the soundtrack to a circus of the insane (a good thing), but the echo pushes further into vampire territory than any song should be. Fine chorus; I could leave the rest of it.
[4]


Captain - Broke
[6.40]

Iain Forrester: Trevor Horn’s second really good single of the week, Broke is one thing that Captain definitely won’t be for long if they carry on making indie pop as shiny and instant as this. Sweetly devotional (“you’re the beat of my heart”) with boy-girl harmonies and even a duet in the middle but far too much joyful kick to be near the territory of “twee,” it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before but by the insistent chorus it’s difficult to care.
[7]

Steve Mannion: This is a distinctly twee affair but, thanks to the lavish Horn production, actually comes off as refreshing in more ways than one thanks to the rare male-female duet and the dynamic this provides—with a particularrly rousing chorus. So yes, Deacon Blue for the late 00s as you may well claim, but what if that was a good thing?
[8]

Martin Skidmore: Indie with male and female vocals, to no detectable purpose. I think they want to sound like U2, which doesn't help matters.
[1]

Koen Sebregts: Reminds me of a dozen late '80s indie bands, but that's not as bad as it sounds. Back then, indie bands sometimes had fairly decent pop songs, and charming girl singers, and handclaps. And so it is with Captain. Nice breezy production, too, instead of the claustrophobic snotty indie monkey sound that seems to be so popular these days. In other words, Captain seem to cater to old people, like me. They are doomed.
[8]


Marisa Monte - Vilarejo
[6.50]

Martin Skidmore: There's something in a certain strand of gentle, laid-back Brazilian singing that conveys regret better than almost anything. This slow and pretty number does this very well, but I've no idea if it's supposed to.
[8]

Ian Mathers: Between this, Bersuit, Veronica Maggio, and Zdenka Predna, it's been heady times at the Jukebox recently for those who like their pop so laid back it appears almost to be on the verge of floating away. Although Monte almost seems to be rushing through the verses, there’s a languid air that makes you want to do nothing more strenuous than relax in a cafe somewhere while this is playing.
[6]

Hillary Brown: Much prettiness and something about the spring, but I can’t think of much to say here other than that it seems like good restaurant/coffeehouse music (and not in a bad way). Is it completely culturally insensitive to say that when there are too many songs from an admittedly very large area of the world (Argentina) in a given week (unless that area is the U.S. or England), it becomes progressively more difficult to come up with cogent commentary?
[5]

Koen Sebregts: Monte's voice is the main attraction here: just the right combination of sultry, soothing, and melancholy. I've also just realised that this song is the exact polar opposite to the Beautiful South's "Manchester." If that was rain, this is sun. If that was potatoes, this is lemon-marinated swordfish.
[7]


Delays - Hideaway
[6.60]

Edward Oculicz: I can't be alone in hearing a lot of Fleetwood Mac in it, "Don't Stop," particularly, except without the undercurrent of sadness. Like a blast of sunshine after the flood of “Valentine”—bounding, uncomplicated music to feel happy to as you run down the beach, arm in arm with the one you love, smugly looking at the singletons in your midst.
[9]

Steve Mannion: “Hideaway” ultimately disappoints after the giddy bombast of “Valentine.” With a beat reminiscent of “Sit Down” by James and a chorus that sounds like it was conjured up by Mutt Lange during a quick fag break, it tries but doesn’t quite ignite the heart like it ought to.
[5]

Jessica Popper: The Delays are one of my absolute favourite British bands and this is one of their best songs—it's certainly their poppiest and catchiest single so far, although Valentine just beats it in overall fantasticness. I wish this band would do better in the charts, if only so they might inspire more bands to ditch the guitars and pick up synthesizers.
[9]

John M. Cunningham: I can't really stand "There She Goes" by the La's anymore, having heard it too often in trailers for dumb romantic comedies—but the opening moments of "Hideaway" evoke the same kind of jangly, open-hearted bliss, which, as far as I’m concerned, makes it an ideal pop song for the onset of summer.
[7]


Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins - You Are What You Love
[6.60]

Martin Skidmore: I really like Lewis's voice, and the Watsons offer genuinely lovely backing, but I kind of wish they'd make country music rather than this slightly distanced—even ironic—post-country. Critic Gilbert Adair has suggested that the one thing a postmodern novel cannot be is tragic, and this musical postmodern move seems to lose that tragic depth which is an indelible part of country's greatness, and sacrificing that is far too much when you can only replace it with some sort of spurious indie sense of superiority over your musical roots. It still sounds pretty, though.
[6]

Edward Oculicz: While often just another layer of boredom on top of Rilo Kiley, on her own, Jenny Lewis drapes herself in twinkling sound effects, heavenly backing vocals, a light country strum, and a honey-sweet melody and shines like the indie goddess she's so often feted as. But how many indie goddesses are this nimble with a hook and a turn of phrase?
[8]

Iain Forrester: Jenny Lewis has a fine twang for this kind of stripped-back alt-country and occasional decent way with a lyric (“the phone is a fine invention, it allows me to talk endlessly to you about nothing”) but not enough to rescue a tune as slight and overly polite as this.
[5]

Hillary Brown: There is a tone about this that reminds me of “I’ve Told Every Little Star” in its slightly countrified twinkles that equally evoke musical theater. One could wish Jenny Lewis had a stronger voice, but this is some fine song craft being demonstrated, especially in having the sense to keep it under three minutes.
[7]


Phoenix - Long Distance Call
[6.67]

John M. Cunningham: I was a pretty vocal proponent of the first two Phoenix albums, so it's possible I'm coming into this song with lofty expectations, but I can't help finding it slight somehow. Though Thomas Mars's voice has always been rather wan, here he seems detached, and the music never coalesces into the syncopated lushness of "Too Young" or "Everything is Everything."
[7]

Ian Mathers: I have stubbornly been unable to like previous singles by Phoenix that friends have tried to press on me, but this makes me a convert. It starts sounding like a kinder, gentler Walkmen before shifting into the steady drum tick and synth tones of the verses. I love that part, but it's got nothing on the chorus, where the jangle comes back and we get the refrain. Short, sweet, and to the point.
[9]

Edward Oculicz: I love Phoenix, so this is as much out of disappointment as anything, but this is not a good single at all. There's absolutely none of what made them charming; the rhythm and the guitar is harsh but toothless, the vocals have no charisma, the story channels none of the bluer emotion that say, "If I Ever Better" (one of the ten best singles of the decade) dripped in abundance and as a final downer, the melody is flat and boring. Hugely underwhelming.
[4]

Jonathan Bradley: Phoenix fiddle around with some dirty guitar riffing for the first ten seconds or so, but it is probably just a ruse to distract us from their true calling — collecting chunks of uncool pop history and playing them as if things like blue eyed soul and soft rock had always been the hippest parts of music. The ruse works perfectly; when the song kicks in, with its breezy beat and sparse keyboard swells, the gorgeous shock is heightened by the drabness of the opening. And then in the chorus, when the guitars return, they are no longer shabby and dull, but have been transformed into pop bliss by a vocal hook so impossibly magical it must have been conjured out of a pumpkin by a fairy godmother — one uniquely practiced in conjuring hooks out of pumpkins. You should see her house at Hallowe’en. Her front yard has so many hooks outside that it’s like… well, a Phoenix song.
[10]


The Dixie Chicks - Not Ready to Make Nice
[6.80]

John M. Cunningham: A cursory look at some online comment boxes proves that there's a wide swath of Nashville fans still incensed at the Dixie Chicks' anti-Bush remarks three years ago ("on foreign soil," one reminds us, as if touring outside the U.S. is itself somehow condemnable). So kudos to the gals for sticking to their guns, and especially for not cloaking their anger in metaphor: the first verse could just as well be about a soured romance, but the second ("It's a sad sad story / That a mother will teach her daughter / That she ought to hate a perfect stranger") makes plain that they're addressing the political flap. Perhaps this shouldn't be so surprising, since country music's tendency to be specific and topical has always been one of its virtues. But when her rushed vocals are buoyed by rising strings, Natalie Maines also brings the song to a satisfying climax.
[6]

Jessica Popper: The Dixie Chicks have been making music for only a couple of years less than I've been alive but they look pretty sprightly for their age and their seventh album, released last month, has produced this surprisingly excellent song. It's their response to the George Bush debacle, and the lyrics (including my favourite: "How in the world can the words that I said send somebody so over the edge that they'd write me a letter saying that I better shut up and sing or my life will be over?") and video are pretty interesting in that respect. It retains the country style of singing, but there's definitely a more commercial approach and there's something really poignant and stirring about this song in both the lyrics and its overall sound, so forget about the country and give it a chance!
[9]

Hillary Brown: What the eff is that tiny, tinny clapping noise that intrudes faintly from time to time. That had better not be in the song, gals, because it wusses up what is already fairly wussy. You are so not mad as hell.
[3]

Martin Skidmore: Their bland rep was helped hugely by a brave political stand, and that is what this song is about, so I'm ideologically on their side immediately. They are very good singers, with voices that can do moving pretty well, but I think the AOR sound here, complete with underpowered rock power chords, doesn't help this—we need something less bland and comfy in the music when the girls are powering out lines about still being mad as hell (or the music could get out of the way, sit in the background and let them do the job). This is a very strong performance much of the way, but I don't think the tune is quite up to the task most of the time, and the more they edge towards tepid rock, the less I care.
[6]


Pet Shop Boys - I'm with Stupid
[7.00]

Iain Forrester: OK, this treads the same Blair/relationship ground as Release’s best song “I Get Along” did, and with much less subtlety. That works to its favour though—deliciously cheeky, full of great lines and even weirdly affecting at points, plus they’ve ditched the guitars and gone back to plenty of synth orchestra flourishes. Hooray!
[8]

Martin Skidmore: They have a strong claim to being the best pop group the world has ever seen, but obviously their greatest days are past—Very was 13 years ago. Even so, this is a fine single, the only one this week where I can remember the tune, although it’s a pretty simpleminded one.
[8]

Jonathan Bradley: I expect now that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are cribbing song ideas from joke T-shirts, we can expect follow up singles called “No Fat Chicks,” and “I’m Going Nucking Futs.” This sort of thing would work so much better if it didn’t have one of those Pet Shop Boys choruses that sounds like Tennant could be singing “in a west end town in a dead end world” or “Aaaaahbsolutely Faaaab-u-lahss” instead, and you would not be able to tell the difference.
[4]

Jessica Popper: In some ways this is a great song, but I do have one problem with it—the way Neil sings "stupid" really annoys me! Apart from that it is in style very similar to lots of songs I love, but I can't help wishing for something extra—something that would make it really ace and not just quite good. However, I am forever indebted to the PSBs for giving me such a brilliant birthday #1 (“Always on My Mind”), so they get bonus points for that.
[7]


Hot Chip - Boy from School
[7.80]

John M. Cunningham: If the sweaty grind of "Over and Over" cemented the impression in some people's minds that Hot Chip were DFA clones, the electro-soul flourishes of "Boy From School" indicate that the lineage is not quite so strict. A subtle highlight on The Warning, it's a smart choice for a single, with its battery of synths steadily percolating beneath a melancholy croon.
[8]

Iain Forrester: A long, resigned sigh of a song, but with so beautifully light a touch that the melancholy never weighs too heavily, even on its positively ghostly choruses. It’s somewhat of a delight after the brilliantly daft pop of “Over And Over” to find that they can do serious just as well too. Plus it has the best video of the year so far.
[8]

Steve Mannion: Hot Chip juxtapose reflective melancholy with a shifty disco beat in impressive style, but such is the power of the soothing vocal that it effectively kills off whatever dancefloor potential the track has in the end. This could count against it, but the ambition and intention behind the whole thing carries it straight to the heart.
[8]

Ian Mathers: Sometimes it's easier to appreciate a single if you're not too familiar with the album from which it comes. Because “Boy From School” is by any measure a great song—the way the chorus stretches out into languor even as the burbling loop underscoring it all keeps a steady pace, the “I got lost” coda (with zither!), the handclaps after the first line—but if you've heard The Warning it's hard not to wish the utterly fantastic “Over And Over” had been followed up by the gnashing “Careful,” say, or the hilarious menace of “The Warning” itself. Hot Chip slays (nearly) all comers from other bands, but can't quite best themselves.
[8]


By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-05-09
Comments (3)
 

 
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