Posts from November 1999

Nov 99

16. MASSIVE ATTACK – “Unfinished Sympathy”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

“I don’t know where this one came from” mutters the run-out voice. Not so: “Unfinished Sympathy” may have swanked into the charts and had classic status handed to it on the spot, but you could see its antecedents easily enough. In fact to miss them you’d have to have been blind to the whole history of black music-making in Britain, because that’s what this single was from the first scribble of scratch to that last head-shaking sample, sifted and recombined into five minutes that could wipe over the lot of it and change everything.

From the point of view of ‘black music’ in this country the 90s were staggeringly important, the decade when the steady importation of styles from America, Jamaica and the West Indies finally fermented into something new and confident, something which represented urban Britain with strength and uniqueness. It became a liberal cliche to say that Goldie and Tricky were the real Britpop, not those lank-haired guitar fops, and like most cliches it got that way by having a bloody strong case to answer. But talking in those kind of terms, talking in terms of ‘black music’ generally, misses the amazing spectrum of sound the music covered. What did Tricky and A Guy Called Gerald, Rufige Kru and 4 Hero possibly have in common? Not very much, but they had this: the music they made in the 90s would have made less sense without Massive Attack, without this song.

Unfinished: Massive Attack’s greatest song continues to intrigue because that’s precisely the feeling you get from it. Not, of course, unfinished sonically (“Sympathy” is hands-down the most ravishingly produced single of the decade), more unresolved. There’s no question left unanswered in the song exactly, no decision that remains to be made, but at the end Shara Nelson is no nearer stepping into the darkness of the song’s “you” than she was at the beginning. What we’re listening to isn’t an emotional movement but an emotional moment, a woman coming to terms with something as inevitable and tidal as the deep, rolling strings underpinning her song. Unlike a lot of anointed classics, “Unfinished Sympathy” continues to provoke delight and wonder as a living track, not just as a historical fait accompli.

Historical it is, though. “Unfinished Sympathy” was the first British track of the hip-hop era that didn’t sound like a genre exercise of one sort or another, that didn’t sound like anything else at all. The great thing is that it still doesn’t, and I don’t think it ever will as long as that ground it broke remains not fully explored.

Nov 99

40. SHERYL CROW – “Sweet Child O’ Mine”

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Average: 1.95 Controversy: 1.31
AT: A misguided cover, but not without a certain logic to it along the drunk lady does karaoke lines. 3
KG: Back to film soundtracks with you Madam. 3
GE: Better versions probably performed in pubs every day of the year. 2
IS: Not even a good song in the first place – reminds me of parties in garages, everyone standing round getting depressed and drunk. 2
TE: There’s a bit in this where the most ravishing pop-metal guitar solo ever – you know the one – pops up being played in a bloody raggle-taggle gypsy style, and you wonder why you bothered with ears in the first place. 1
AE: This is an abomination. 1
DS: Don’t know it. Not the G’n’R single, surely?

39. STEREOPHONICS – “The Bartender And The Thief”

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Average: 2.33 Controversy: 2.71
KA: They were doing so well until stooping to suckle from the teat of MOR AOR rubbish. 8
GE: A band like this in every town – why them?? 4
NW: And people thought the Manics sounded hamfisted. 2
TE: The Stereophonics are where pop draws the line. Their drain-voiced caterwauling and drably, obviously ‘meaningful’ lyrics should be everything the music rebels against. To arms! 0

38. THE VENGABOYS – “We’re Going To Ibiza”

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Average: 2.36 Controversy: 2.22
NW: The kind of cheesy dance pop I’d imagined died in the early 90s. 7
KG: As nothing to the majesty of previous offerings. Quite annoying they’ve taken this route. 3
PB: If I was five this would be great. I am not. 3
MD: Like they say, WHHHOOOOOOOAAAAAAAA!!!!!! This wasn’t a hit in America, thank goodness. You see, we didn’t invent acid house, so NOBODY HERE WOULD KNOW WHAT THE HELL THIS “IBIZA” IS! 2.4
IS: They don’t sound very excited – might as well be going to Clacton. 2
MA: You could argue that genuine music lovers had been given ample warning by the title. 1
AE: If I had the power, I’d drive them and their Vengabus off a Vengacliff, causing a huge Vengaexplosion in which their Vengacorpses would be flung to Ibiza, where they would rot as an example to the rest. 0

37. MACY GRAY – “Do Something”

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Average: 2.38 Controversy: 0.74
FS: After all I heard about her, this was massively underwhelming. 3
JM: Acid jazz is soooooo 1994. 3
KG: Has a lovely voice, sadly the song is bollocks. 3
AT: Jools Holland’s wet dream. 1

36. WHITNEY HOUSTON – “My Love Is Your Love”

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Average: 2.58 Controversy: 2.81
NW: Whitney Houston in single that doesn’t completely suck shocker! It’s probably due to her choice of collaborators this time round, but Whitney manages to reign in the melodramatics. The dying Yeti vocal performances will have to be left to Mariah and Celine for the time being. 6
AE: Whitney would be okay in a nuclear war apparently. And on the Day of Judgement, when we all tremble before the mighty one, she would say that she deserved eternal bliss because of she’d spent time in the company of Bobby Brown. 5
MA: Whitney never fails to do her stuff. Date the wrong person and she will dedicate this song to you on late-night radio. 4
KG: Not worth the ink. 0

35. THE LANTERNS – “High Rise Town”

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Average: 2.75 Controversy: 3.37
KG: Sounds really old-fashioned – poor Channel 4 documentary lyrics. 2
PB: The social commentary is ten years out of date. Literally in-credible. 0
TE: What if the Stereophonics discovered synthpop? Mercy! 0
JM: Tanita Tikaram with a beat – “Reach for yer skins and get oot yer face” 0

34. EIFFEL 65 – “Blue”

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Average: 2.91 Controversy: 2.63
AE: Also extremely good fun. Could have done with more BEAT. BASS FOR YOUR FACE. Starts off with excellent rant by obvious mental case about ‘blue world’. THERE IS NOBODY TO LISTEN screams insane man as he rolls around in his straightjacket drawing with a blue crayon. Then I saw them on TOTP and they were a boy band. Pity. 8
DS: Every time I turned on the telly, there was that bloody alien. 3

33. ATARI TEENAGE RIOT – “Revolution Action!”

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Average: 3 Controversy: 2.39
IOD: This is more like it. That’s the sweat of the teenage riot! 6
TE: There’s a good bit in the middle where all their machines break down and they just keep shouting feebly over the top. Otherwise business as usual. 5
JM: To be encouraged, but why aren’t ATR better than this? 3
PB: I own far too many records like this. No record with unintelligible lyrics and thrash guitars that rocks in at under 3 minutes is bad. This lasts 5 minutes. 2
KG: Arse. But they are German. 1

32. GAY DAD – “To Earth With Love”

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Average: 3.33 Controversy: 3.11
GF: Excellent, informed retro pop. 9
KA: All surface no feeling. 6
NW: But Earth doesn’t love you, Cliff! Even Menswear have done it better. 4
TE: I’d be surprised if anyone who bought this has the gall to criticise pop bands for being ‘manufactured’ ever again. No, scratch that, I wouldn’t be. 1