ith the bunting still fresh in the street and the ticker tape still lining the roads for Take That's return to #1 in the singles chart, album chart, and highest grossing UK tour of 2006, the teenage populace could be forgiven for feeling a bit left out. The Moderately Fab Four's return has been aimed at those whose major monthly expenditure is their mortgage and not two-for-one offers on WKD Red. Anyway, the kids want their pop stars to have overly-coiffured drama academy douchetard and “indie” “fan” Alex Zane on speed dial, not decrepit jazz fan and Melua-backer Michael “Parkinson” Parky.
So we gotta recast Take That for the new generation. You've got your leader, the uncool yet talented one with the overall vision (Gary/My Chemical Romance). You've got the goofy, cheeky, irritating one who would rather be in a band playing the indie stylings of the day, if only there was any money in it (Robbie/Panic! At the Disco). You've got “Dance Dance” (Howard/Fall Out Boy). And you've got the utterly useless one (Jason/AFI). Which leaves Lil' Chris as Lil' Mark, then, the cute moppet with the pinchable cheeks and the complexion of a six year old. You can tell Lil' Chris is emo because his MySpace username is “lilemochris.”
Hmmm. Maybe not. For those of you that have successfully blocked Channel 4's Friday night output from your memory (and if you've managed that, we envy you, we really do) Lil' Chris is one Christopher James Hardman—the breakout star from the second series of “Gene Simmons' Rock School,” a TV show where the KISS frontman and money-aficionado harasses a bunch of small children until they form a mediocre pop metal band. Hardman, with his diminutive stature, pederast-friendly good looks, and ability to hold a guitar at the right angle, was a shoo-in for a solo career, and when lead single “Checkin' It Out” made #3 on the hit parade, it was obvious we were gonna be in it for the duration.
So here's the album, produced by the guy who also produced “Hands Up Hands Up” for mid-‘90s breakfast TV reggae alien puppets Zig and Zag. And, of course, it's a modern day pop record for an artist with a short career span, so let's look at the two singles to the near exclusion of anything else on the CD. It's what the general public will do...
The most notable thing about Lil' Chris—what's putting him in the charts and actually making some of his output worth listening to—is his voice. A strangled, reaching, still-breaking cross between a quiver and a squeal that makes you think one thing and one thing only: “Holy shit, Ari Up has a new album out.”
This isn't to say that “Lil' Chris” is an album full of dub-punk though: it knows how you get a pop-rock album (with the emphasis thoroughly on the former) into the charts these days, and that's via “inspiration” from previous hits and a Kelly Clarkson-esque shine on anything that could seem rugged. “Gettin' Enough” (Lil' Chris song titles contain more dropped g's than a Pauline Fowler monologue) is The Buzzcocks' “Ever Fallen in Love With Someone (You Shouldn't Have Fallen in Love With),” right down to the rise and fall inflections in the two-words-too-many-for-the-time-allotted chorus. It's coupled with a mid-‘80s AOR drum machine beat which keeps the whole thing ticking away in as calm a fashion as possible. The tracks themselves are pretty anonymous at times, being as the whole thing is mean to be a vehicle for Chris and his personality, but it's not as if a 16 year old who sings like he's 14 and looks like he's 10 is ever going to be that captivating. Still, you can't fuck with the Buzzcocks: “Gettin' Enough” is the last great single to be released in 2006.
Then there's “Checkin' It Out,” which got us this album in the first place. “One Way Or Another” chords give way to garage rock and random hair metal fretwork (Chris went to the same school as The Darkness for what it's worth), a Slade style grunt-and-groan bit in the middle-eight, and a boy being told to play dress-up in the fads and styles of past decades (i.e. the pop equivalent of when Paul O'Grady gets a bunch of six year olds to dress up as Lily Langtree and Edward III on his show.) Good song, though.
The rest of the album? Eh, that's not so good, but then again who's going to ever bother to listen to it?
So that's Lil' Chris. Join us in late 2007 when we'll be discussing the debut album by the band from Ice T's “Rap School.” S'gonna be a classic, I'm sure you'll agree.