Pop Playground
US Singles Jukebox: Singles Going Steady

he week of May 30th brings us songs running the gamut from lesbian dance hall, Christian pop-rap comeback singles and discopunk to he said/she said R&B;, 70s FM rock revivalists and what is without a doubt the most unusual song to get anything resembling airplay on MTV—in this year or any other of this millennium. Add to that a whopping five songs breaching the 5.0 point in rating, and you’ve got what is arguably the most fascinating week in singles so far this year.

Ma$e – Welcome Back [5.8]

Ian Mathers: I didn’t care when Ma$e decided to retire, and I sure didn’t miss him when he was gone. But what a great comeback single! His rapping is nice enough (if mostly about the fact that he doesn’t drink, smoke, fuck, etc.), but it’s that warmly welcoming sample and the smooth, rolling, summery flow of the back track that gets me. Maybe I’d feel different if snow was still on the ground, but right now this one sounds perfect.

David Drake: Oh man this feels so great the first time, so refreshing, so much pure satisfaction. An obvious sample, perhaps freaked better by Onyx, but...man. Fun. Too bad it wears out its "welcome" fairly quickly.

Akiva Gottlieb: So Ma$e returns from a five-year religious hiatus and he’s confused by changes in the rap world…fair enough. But he’s also misogynistic, greedy, self-involved, and often just plain wrong (“All these rap cats got their style from me”). “Welcome Back” is a catchy-enough playground jam, but Ma$e shows no signs of musical or lyrical growth since his dramatic, KLF-style departure from the music biz. He may have embraced God, but he’s preaching the same old sermon.

Josh Love: Before he quit the game, Mase flowed duller than a doorknob, but at least he gave you Cris and whips and shit. Now he’s got a lifestyle that’ll leave you just as bored, so that all there’s left to do is ponder just why the fuck we would wanna welcome him back in the first place. In the interest of full disclosure, the beat is built off the theme from Welcome Back Kotter, which I’ve gotta admit is kind of hott – now if someone could just get ahold of the tracks for Three’s Company (I’m kind of surprised this hasn’t been used for an ode to ménage a trois yet).

Brandy f/ Kanye West – Talk About Our Love [5.0]

Ian Mathers: First the good news: Those horns on the chorus, sampled or not, are pretty sweet. The chorus as a whole is pretty good, even if I keep having to remind myself the tracks dates from this year, not the seventies. The bad news: Kanye, man, speaking as someone who neither thinks you’re a god nor hates your guts, it’s time to take a break. The verse is still ingratiating, but the production here sounds dog tired right now. Rest on your laurels for a bit.

David Drake: I like how Kanye's resurrected this classic soul sound, Brandy's voice, if not particularly unique, is definitely effective. Kanye's verse is, as always these days, clever and funny, tongue-in-cheek yet genuine. Hot shit.

Akiva Gottlieb: At this point, Kanye’s a front-runner for Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, and with this single, Brandy hitches a ride on his shiny bandwagon, with a modicum of success. Motown-style production, a hummable chorus, competent lyrics…none of it matters once Kanye gets on the mic and kicks an MOR track into high gear. If this single is any indication, her new album could be her biggest artistic splash since “Moesha”.

Josh Timmermann: I like this slightly more than the last two Alicia Keys singles, though it's no less blandly MOR. It's songs like this that make me really miss Aaliyah. Her and Tim made "We Need a Resolution," "Try Again," and "Are You That Somebody?" This is evidently the best Brandy and Kanye can do.

Josh Love: I’ve spent half a year now sticking up for Kanye’s non-flow, common man’s emcee, inarticulate sociological street poet-philosopher bullshit, but here he should have known better and stayed the fuck out of the way. This one's an otherwise typical, highly serviceable Brandy tune until Kanye steps to the mic and mucks it all up, dropping references to Juwana Man and Donovan McNabb that would have been right at home on his own LP, but absolutely kill the momentum here. Of course, he did drop that Kobe barb on "Overnight Celebrity," so we'll call it even, how 'bout it?

Nina Sky – Move Ya Body

Ian Mathers: The riddim from “Jook Gal” sounds much better here; of course, the chance that Ms. Sky would be a more irritating vocalist than Elephant Man was slim to nil, so maybe that’s not surprising. In any case, Sky’s vocals slide around the beat, caressing it, which makes for a much better song. That it’s the first dancehall song I’ve heard that’s about hott girl-on-girl action (sure, “the fellas” get a mention, but google the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean) is interesting.

David Drake: Single of the summer and one of the best songs of the year, no contest. The Coolie riddim is one of the catchiest, most insistent productions I've ever heard, but retains this fresh, surprising edge - the handclaps and those deep-pitched toms all over this house-like 4/4 bounce. And I haven't even approached Nina Sky's masterful singing. Although folks have compared it to the Lumidee track that was released last year over the Diwali, Wayne Wonder and Sean Paul's interpretations both roasted Lumidee's sorry ass all over 2003; Nina Sky has dropped what is easily the best interpretation of the Coolie riddim. Beauty.

Akiva Gottlieb: God, I wish I had taken that seminar last semester, “Writing Objectively About Dancehall/Riddim-Influenced Singles.” I took “Comparative Lo-Fi Poetry: The Dinosaur Jr.-Sebadoh Connection” instead, and the professor was stoned 24/7. I’m meeting with the dean on Monday to discuss this travesty.

Josh Timmermann: This is a sexy song. I like this. The rhythm's fun. The girls are hot. It'll probably still sound good by the end of the summer. What more can one ask, really?

Josh Love: My boy David Drake’s all over this one, but I just don’t be feelin’ it. I mean, come on Double D, second best single of the year behind “Yeah”? For reals? In my mind, for a single to be THAT great, it must either be a) exhilirating (don’t matter if it’s “Run” or “The Rat” or “Redneck Woman”) or b) beautiful (“Burn,” “I Don’t Want to Know”). Sure it would sound better in the club, but out here in the open the vocals sound half-there, the dancehall beat’s a little tepid, and the hook just can’t quite seem to stick.

Bumblebeez 81 – Pony Ride

Ian Mathers: At first I thought I’d downloaded the wrong song, but no, this is getting played on MTV. So at first it has a kind of “WTF?” novelty value. But when that wears off, you get what sounds like a particularly sloppy b-side from Mellow Gold. Which is enjoyable, sure, and I’d love to see this reach the top of the charts (for comedy’s sake, if nothing else), but ultimately the only reason to like this is because there’s nothing else like it on the singles charts.

David Drake: What the fuck is this shit? I mean seriously, why would anyone listen to this? Is it the lack of a recognizable melody? Or it is because it is totally uninteresting in any way? I hate it when people criticize art by saying "I could do this!" (so...why didn't you?) but forreal guys - I could do this. And I didn't do it because I'm not so bored with music that i think the world needs a song with two notes and tacky drumming.

Akiva Gottlieb: This track is really annoying, and I can’t imagine that any mainstream radio DJ would ever imagine playing it. The lyrical conceit--“Come on ride the pony/get it up”--is vaguely inspiring, and I’m sure that if Guided By Voices recorded this I’d praise it as some kind of lo-fi dada psychosexual Captain Beefheart homage, but in this manifestation, atonal literal/figurative wankery just will not do.

Sam Bloch: A chord lift from the Jungle Brothers and a Beck delivery and we have the subversive intelligence of the scrappy Bumblebeez 81. This song has legitimate MTV airplay, and now I will spin a web of irony even craftier than this dude’s lyrics. The squares say MTV plays bad videos, with a severe lack of AOR indie, and the wisened hipsters shower the channel’s endless stream of S. Carter videos with praise. Choose or lose. This song is atrocious.

Josh Timmermann: Fuck this. It's, like, some second-rate Odelay-era Beck rip-off, and the video screams "novelty hit." And it's not even as funny as that Liam Lynch video was the first time I saw it.

Josh Love: Based solely on the half-assed wacky-pastiche video, I’d assume these guys want to be a cross between Junior Senior and Len. Oh, OK, AMG sez the lead singer’s an art stoodent who went to Pratt Institute in NY, where he “immersed himself in his three passions: art, tennis, and music.” Sounds like quite the precocious Pratt to me, a lost Tennenbaum perhaps, so it’s no surprise “Pony Ride” is an exercise in dilettantism, a mish-mash of rock and hip-hop that sounds like the product of a po-mo education in the former and a boarding-school background in the latter.

Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out

Ian Mathers: I’ve been trying to ignore the hype on these guys, but this seems like perfectly fun indie disco. This isn’t going to chance the world, but who cares? I could wind up really liking these guys, or absolutely hating them.

David Drake: I like this song in spite of myself. It's got guitars, which I'm normally against, but on the whole it's pretty joyful and celebratory, entertaining and fairly replayable. I'd say more, but I'm listening to Nina Sky on repeat.

Akiva Gottlieb: It happens at the 0:55 mark. Suddenly, a Strokes-level garage-rock song stops on a dime, with a punchy guitar announcing a seemingly jarring tempo change, and morphs into something catchy and brutally booty-shakin’. Franz Ferdinand is last month’s hot new UK import--Scotland, to be precise--but this single should be heating up dance floors for two months, if not two-and-a-half.

Josh Timmermann: More than even with the usual Rock & Roll Savior of the Week, I can't see at all what the big deal is about this band. Yeah, they sound like the Strokes, but not as good. They're from Scotland or Ireland or something. (As if I honestly care.) This song's mildly catchy in a nod-along-while-it's-on-but-forget-how-it-goes-completely-as-soon-as-it's-off sort of way. Maybe I'm just too hard to impress. Or maybe most of this current crop of rock bands just suck.

Josh Love: In no way does this score imply an endorsement of Franz Ferdinand or their supremely overrated self-titled debut as a whole. Mostly I’ve got no time for such self-consciously “manic” post-punk nonsense, but this track definitely sticks out like a sore thumb, an irrepressible, highly danceable sore thumb.

Sam Bloch: I had a conversation about Franz with a gay friend of mine once. "Alex," I asked him, "why are you all up on this band?" He looked at me and sort of smiled, wincing as though he’d be bracing for impact. "Well, they’re really clever." His hand swirled some imaginary goblet and fell limp. "And, of course, they’re really sophisticated." He rolled his eyes and laughed. "Their cover art," he said breathlessly, "is so perfectly constructed." Sigh. "I just want to be them." I stared horrified and he caught my eye. "Oh, shit, what am I talking about. They just fucking rock." And that’s it.

The Darkness - Growing on Me

Ian Mathers: I hate that the Darkness have turned into the focal point of a whole bunch of (mostly silly) debates about music. They’re goofy and they make great singles – that’s really all I care to think about. This is no “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, and if anything could use more falsetto, but as a touching ode to one man’s venereal disease/fungal infection/dandruff/whatever, it’s too silly and too catchy for me not to love.

David Drake: I feel almost exactly the same way about this song as I did "Welcome Back" - it's joyful, hooky and satisfying. Similarly, it wears itself out rather quickly.

Akiva Gottlieb: The Darkness really are a bunch of sweethearts, and this is a cute little song. However, it lacks most of the novelty of their debut single, and the falsetto no longer delivers its effervescently orgasmic sucker punch. “Growing on Me” should disappear pretty quickly.

Sam Bloch: This song, apparently, is about herpes. I know a girl who has herpes. Her life sucks now. She tricks people into thinking that she’s a good lay and then gives them some VD. Much like this band. You're her next victim and the enticing come-ons are transparent like her lace panties.

Josh Timmermann: The Darkness are awful. Terrible. Bad bad bad. They take the most vapid, soulless aspects of arena rock and hair metal and play them for some lamely opportunistic version of post-everything ironic excess. Astonishingly, this song is possibly even worse than "I Believe in a Thing Called Love"--which is quite a feat in itself.

Josh Love: This whole album feels so 2003 to me, and to be honest I haven't spun it much in '04. Of course, now the Scissor Sisters want to be this year’s Darkness, but their Pink Floyd send-up isn’t half as good, which is proof enough we still need Justin’s spandex man-bulge to lighten up a rock-radio landscape filled with Hoobaskanks and Herpes Simple(x) Plans. Which is funny cuz that’s what this song’s about, unwanted STDs, ain’t it?

By: Stylus Staff

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Posted 06/04/2004 - 03:19:49 AM by IanMathers:
 Nina Sky is two people? I never would have guessed that, actually.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 03:20:13 AM by IanMathers:
 Oh, and Mr. Love and I are right about the Darkness, and the rest of you are wrong.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 03:34:28 AM by ddrake:
 Ugh I am furious that Franz scored higher than Nina Sky. Fucking shit. I thought I wrote this in my review of the Nina Sky track but I love the part where they sing "Can you feel the beat within my heart, can't you see my love shine through the dark, can't you see the two must be a part, of that beat in my heaaaart." It sounds like some classic 80s electro-diva (shannon or someone). And I'm sorry, but the coolie riddim is ridiculously hot. Akiva, you are now my mortal enemy. Although respect due for this line: "He may have embraced God, but he’s preaching the same old sermon." Even though I disagree, I thought it was sorta clever. Arg I wish I'd given franz a 3.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 03:37:47 AM by ddrake:
 More reactions: I still like the Brandy track, and I think Kanye's done some fresh stuff with some classic samples. It's actually more intricate than it first appears, I think. Regarding this quote by Akiva: "The lyrical conceit--“Come on ride the pony/get it up”--is vaguely inspiring..." Ginuwine - "Pony" Get on that shit.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 03:39:30 AM by ddrake:
 One more thing and then I'll stop I promise: Calling the Coolie riddim "tepid" is a crime against humanity. Thank you that is all.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 05:42:56 AM by holystoning:
 Man oh man does that Bumblebeez track blow. Thanks for calling BS on it. And thanks go to most of you all for being less than breathless about Franz Ferdinand's straight-ahead disco-rock.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 08:03:59 AM by J.Timmermann:
 Personal note: Since writing my comments for the above piece, I've become increasingly convinced that "Move Ya Body" is nothing short of fantastic, probably one of the year's best singles, and that I underrated it considerably with a mere 7. I'd now give it a 9, for sure.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 11:09:11 AM by shudder:
 All you Franz haters: listen to track 4 on the album, Dawn of the Matinee. Hot shit. Seriously though, despite what all you music critic types are sayin, they sound a lot more Pulp and a lot less Strokes to me.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 11:59:24 AM by AUnterberger:
 Haha. You're such a poor sport, David.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 12:27:37 PM by Kareem_Estefan:
 No one likes the Bumblebeez? I can't say I'm surprised, but someone's got to represent: the song's an 8.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 02:23:31 PM by AUnterberger:
 Yeah, I was really disappointed in that as well. It's at least an 8.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 02:55:45 PM by IanMathers:
 I, too, was hoping for something not by Franz Ferdinand to be the single of the week, but I had this forboding it would win. It sucks being right, sometimes.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 03:04:04 PM by MattChesnut:
 Bumblebeez got torn to shreds. I'll save my defense for The Printz album review, assuming it gets similar response.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 04:11:55 PM by ddrake:
 Haha andrew don't take me too seriously. At least JT has seen the light ;)
Posted 06/04/2004 - 05:38:34 PM by NickSouthall:
 holystoning could you please email me? Thank you.
Posted 06/04/2004 - 07:28:52 PM by samuelbloch:
 Shake dat ting blah blah Jamaica get tipsy (Nina Sky)
Posted 06/04/2004 - 07:29:13 PM by samuelbloch:
 Except, I forgot, nobody fucks with "Tipsy."
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