Around the World in 80kbps
#008: Impeccable Crunch and Bite

all around the world, there seem to be two singles going to #1 or thereabouts everywhere. U2 and Brian McFadden. Everyone needs to raise their standards this month. I think I preferred it when it was Usher and the Black Eyed Peas. Of course, I'd prefer it if it were one of these singles:

BERTINE ZETLITZ - Fake Your Beauty (Norway, #2)
Actually, this was #1 last week, so it's had a good run already. Each new album Bertine releases gets a little more attention outside of Norway than the last as other people realise that 80s-revivalist pop is actually a pretty good idea. Meanwhile, her high chart positions in Norway show that she's got the support of the hipsters that listen to this stuff in other countries as well as the pop kids. The template here is a slightly bolder, brassier, female led version of Cursor Miner doing The Human League. "Fake your beauty / Smiling sweetly" Bertine exhorts you over arrogant, slinky synth pulses and clunky beats that are actually rock-like in spirit, if not precisely in texture. You can certainly dance to this the same you would to electroclash, but it's too clean and clear for that label.

KITTY AND THE K - I Am A MF (Sweden, not charting)
In which two great long-standing pop traditions are married in a glorious ceremony; firstly, adorably hyperactive electro-pop, think Fox & Wolf's "Youth Alcoholic" or very early Bis, and secondly, gratuitous swearing. Surely this has been done before, but I can't think of when. Extremely fast-paced, cheesy, cheap and annoying, but worryingly catchy, and would be so even if the chorus weren't "I am a motherfucker. Are you a motherfucker too?". Kitty informs the listener that she has "three boyfriends at the same time", but you're not likely to notice because the whole thing runs through with such ridiculous abandon that the lyrics are basically a very pleasant blur.

MOLOTOV - Amateur (Mexico, #58)
This is the first single I've actually heard from this lot since their late-90s almost-crossover "Voto Latino", and it's good enough to make me think there's a lot I've been missing in the interim. It's hard to tell whether this reminds me more of the effortless guitar swagger of early AC/DC or of some kind of alternate-universe Spanish-rapping Beastie Boys. Whatever, it's got impeccable crunch and bite, the faux-rapping is great enough to make up for the fact that they don't seem to have bothered to write a chorus and basically, the bit where there's a lovely cheesy 80s hair metal riff going right through the third verse sells it completely.

NEGATIVE - In My Heaven (Finland, #7)
Your mileage my vary, but I still have a questionable fondness for melodic, radio-friendly rock music that doesn't know whether it wants to be hard rock or catchy pop, because when the latter wins, it works. It doesn't matter that half of Negative's songs use the exact same dynamics (and riffs) because if I had a lighter, it would be in the air for this. As far as quickly-paced, gruffly sung, slightly upset/annoyed stadium-fillers go, this is quality, largely because of THAT chorus, with its lushly layered vocals, just-the-right-side-of-emotional yelping and a lovely riff that both opens the song and comes back even more effectively underneath the last chorus. The Scandinavians really know how to do this stuff.

FABRIZIO FANIELLO - I'm In Love [The Whistle Hit] (Malta, but #7 in Sweden)
Slow-burning pan-Europe hit alert! Having had ever so minor success in Northwestern Europe earlier in the year (Netherlands and Belgium), it looks like the Germans and the Swedes are going to make this into the big hit it probably deserves. Certainly the simple Euro-dance backing and cheesy English lyrics explains the former, but the latter has to be an artefact of how the whistled chorus and the opening chords must surely be ripped off an ABBA song, or at the very least one by Steps in their ABBA-poaching mode. Which ABBA song it is is going to torment me for hours, but it's probably late-period when they all hated each other and were singing love songs through a shield of hateful irony.

WITHIN TEMPTATION - Stand My Ground (Netherlands, #15)
Those who wonder why The Rock Music isn't doing what it used to could do worse than look at the way that, aside from awful ballads, it's epic, faintly goth rock songs that are charting all over Europe—high positions, many charts. This song greedily goes for both, as when you strip away the pleasing lighters-aloft chorus, you actually have a rather pretty soft piano ballad of the kind Delta Goodrem would do if she weren't generally so plodding. There's certainly no attempt to be authentically rock, every single MOR sheen and gloss is layered over the top of the production, there's no subtlety in the almost ham-fisted way the guitars crunch in for the second verse or how the bass thunders in to launch the chorus. It just sounds happens to very, very good when these ordinarily bad things are applied to what is effect a very, very good song.

YUMIKO CHENG - Too Flowery For The Eyes (China, #13)
When listening to this, I am back in 1993 playing on my brother's Sega-CD, the music to all of those games sounded exactly like this, which means that if Chinese pop has made large strides, it's either kept them well hidden or held onto what few would admit is a beautiful heritage. Snobbism aside, the deep piano on this is magnificent and if ever there were a song to resurrect the career of Samantha Mumba, here it is. The Cantonese singing has a breathy, singalong quality to it—and rhythmically it reminds me a touch of Britney Spears' neo-disco masterpiece "Anticipating". Also exists in a version called "The Hot Mix" that basically removes all that retro charm and leaves it almost pointless, though even in that hostile surrounding, the half-spoken, half-sung prechorus still tickles the ears, as does the stuttering, almost unbalanced chorus, sing-a-long if you can get your mouth around the sounds.

By: Edward Oculicz
Published on: 2004-11-17
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