Around the World in 80kbps
#002: Plastic Guitars

despite the trickle of overseas artists, the UK and US charts are fairly insular. Their own product dominates the upper echelons of the charts, sometimes much to the agony of those who follow pop. What many pop fans don't realise is that there's heaps of great pop being made in other countries that never makes its way across.

Sometimes it's the language barrier, but sometimes there seems to be no good reason why it doesn't cross over. This column will cover a range of stuff that may have missed your radar—and the occasional nugget that will make it big on your shores. Most of it's European, because that's where most of this undiscovered stuff is made.

This page is likely to be the first, or perhaps more likely, only place you hear about some of these songs, outside of my own blog.

Since my last column, in which I bigged up The Mo's jaw-droppingly brilliant single "Nostalgia Locomotive", that single has stopped its slow decline on the Swedish pop charts and raced ahead to its highest position yet, Number 13. I choose to take all the credit for this, even though I deserve none. Will there be a similar effect for any of this month's singles? One hopes.

VERENA PÖTZL - Addiction (Austria, Current Chart Position: #2)
Xenomania would be proud of this song, in which Verena takes Pink's “Just Like A Pill” and flips it around with plastic guitars all over the mess. "Another pawn, another pill, another girl?", she condemns over cheerful guitars and the worst extended metaphor in recent memory. "You're fake, I'll celebrate the day they rehabilitate your love addiction", she sings, not so much scolding as warning of the inevitable. Best of all, though, is the verses, which jerk back and forth over rather early 00s R&B; guitars, before the bridge steps up the pace—priming you for the change between a rough approximation of R&B; and chorus’ even rougher approximation of rock.

M-FLO LOVES BOA - The Love Bug (Japan, #15)
Under most circumstances, no way would you even bother listening to such a ridiculously named artist. But you'd be wrong, because you'd miss out on this fine sugar rush, sounding like the master tapes of two songs becoming inextricably entwined together. It opens with some acoustic guitar, swings in with some sweetened synth strings, a beat, a groove and a cute female vocal. Then a guy comes in rapping. Then they both come in at the same time, bouncing hooks off each other. “Rapper's Delight” is either interpolated or cannibalized (depending on your viewpoint). The interplay is wonderful and the catchy bits are dangerously so, making the sum of the parts fantastic for dancing in your chair, bobbing your head or singing in your car.

LEKI - Breakin' Out (Belgium, #20)
She's somehow involved with the should-have-been legendary and influential Ya Kid K—Leki may in fact be related to her. She certainly sounds enough like her, but rather than wedding a simple vocal to a straight-ahead bit of Eurodance like Technotronic, the groove is complex, the vocal delivery is rhythmic more than it is melodic and it wouldn't have seemed that out of place on Kish Kash. Take that as high praise indeed. Most importantly, the chorus is a great chant-along affair.

COLDER - Follow (Lithuania, #3)
England sends laughingstocks—past and future—to Eurovision. The rest of Europe sends proper singles, many of which are terrible, some of which are not. Some of those that don't make it are rather good too. Take this one, which only came fifth in the Lithuanian semi-final, and yet is racing up the charts. Not Eurodance at all, this is a pleasing bit of plaintive guitar pop. Coldplay would kill to be this subtle again, and if they weren't richer than God, they'd probably kill to have a song this good as well. Obviously, you get some rather poor lyrics, but the delivery saves them: "I don't wanna be alone / Please forgive me and stay on / I will follow / I will follow only you". There's something simple, honest and direct, encompassing most of the reasons I used to like this sort of thing before I realised that pop was most of those things and more, about this. As well as being sexier. Background noises are used nicely for light and shade, and the restraint, in not drowning this in piano or electronic effects or strings, is admirable.

ALDO RANKS - El Baile Del Pescao (Chile, #9)
It's as if you took what you'd expect a big Chilean dance single to sound like, then rearranged it using cheap keyboards and drum machines for the European market. And added almost tribal drums over parts of it, a fantastic almost rapped section and an addictive chant over the top that tips its hat to dancehall in its almost aggressively anti-melodic but hook-laden intensity. It goes on maybe a minute too long for something so sparse and minimalist, but the individual parts are all very, very pleasing to the ear.

SEPTEMBER - September All Over (Sweden, #22)
Down 14 places this week for absolutely no good reason. A lone synth introduces the proceedings before horrible, discordant squalls of noise break the mood—this ain't no cheesy Eurodance stomper, in other words, despite the massive hooks and the vocoder that prevents you from enjoying them to quite the extent you'd like. But the atmosphere is what works here, the song straddling both pop euphoria with something darker and dissolute, fitting because it's not really clear what it's actually about. Project your own woe onto it. Then dance it off.

BOOSTA: ICONOCLASH - Rock 'n' Roll Robot (Italy, #37)
Nerds with jerky drumbeats share their love for a robot. World (well, Italy at least) dances awkwardly. This has an endearing stuttering rhythm, a strolling bass and enthusiastically, but seriously recited (and very odd) lyrics about a ROCK ‘N ROLL ROBOT and how the singer WANTS and NEEDS said robot. Over churning, queasy guitars and a beat that stumbles and falls over itself as often as the singer's vowels, it ends up being better than “Computer Love”, “Digital Love” and “I Love You (Miss Robot)” put together, in fact.

J-FIVE - Modern Times (France, #7)
It's up 8 spots in That France this week, and is the most infectious rap-pop single you can imagine. Old-time movies are sampled, Charlie Chaplin is bigged up for his ability to make people laugh without saying a word and "Does anyone here want to hear my voice" is said at one point. Needless to say, only someone who is spitting out light-hearted but unbelievably catchy rhymes like this ("He kicked the game / Go figure / Had no time for gold-diggers / The mack-daddy of the 1930s") could get away with talking about how sad it is that people have to scream to get heard nowadays, not like back in the old days when the silent movie was King. It's “Trick Me” by Kelis + “Young MC” + “Lucas With The Lid Off”, and absolutely every bit as good as that sounds.You can't exactly argue with that, now, can you? If you track down nothing else, make sure you hear this.

By: Edward Oculicz
Published on: 2004-03-25
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