Tom Ewing

22
Feb 16

Together! We Will Learn And Teach

New York London Paris Munich + Popular9 comments • 1,003 views

I am delighted to share the news that Popular (or rather me) is GOING WEST, with a speaking slot at this year’s EMP Pop Conference in Seattle. You can find full details here. Come along if you happen to be in Seattle and otherwise stay tuned for publication of my paper right here.

What is it about? I’M GLAD YOU ASKED. Here is the, if you will, poposal that got the nod.

VOX POPULAR: The Charts As Soapbox In A Digital Era

18
Feb 16

FIVE – “Let’s Dance”

Popular33 comments • 2,297 views

#906, 25th August 2001

five lets dance Five were a band out of time. In the late 90s they’d made sense as a boyband who could appeal to the post-Spice audience, their Duplo version of hip-hop fitting nicely alongside Billie and B*Witched as pop aimed for youth. I had plenty of time for them – they were pushing a bright, colourful, hooky product that never pretended to be anything else, and in the early days they had a run of entertaining singles. It’s a redeeming feature of Simon Cowell projects – good or crap, and they’re largely crap, they rarely try to dupe you.

10
Feb 16

SO SOLID CREW – “21 Seconds”

Popular47 comments • 4,754 views

#905, 18th August 2001

sosolid WHAT YOU LAUGHIN AT?

Eight people rap or sing on “21 Seconds”. One more – producer G-Man – provides the music. But So Solid Crew as a concept contained multitudes, and became famous for it. A few other producers and MCs, for sure, but also backing singers, friends and family, local kids. They presented themselves as a clan, a Battersea estate moving en masse into the business of garage, into the charts. The size of So Solid, 20 or 30 strong, was a talking point, and an easy angle for mockery: it’s rare to find an old piece or profile that doesn’t boggle at it.

A group so large would be prone to split, you’d think. But the trouble with So Solid wasn’t division. The idea of the group, as formed by public leader Megaman and a couple of the other, older men in the Crew, proved entirely workable – if members fought over the spotlight, it didn’t show on record: there’s no animosity between the MCs on “21 Seconds”. If anything, the problem was loyalty. The wider any group gets, the more likely it is that one or two will be liabilities – whether in terms of talent, or looks, or behaviour. Successful acts played the industry game, cutting out problems. So Solid closed ranks, presented themselves as an all or nothing proposition even as the press smacked its lips over a growing reputation for trouble.

“21 Seconds” is an excellent record. But it’s more than that – it may be the last real shock of a Number One. It does two things, unusual in themselves, outstanding together. It’s the sound of a subculture in full cry – getting to Number One with one of its crucial tracks, not with some dribbled-out consolation record or opportunist rip-off. And it’s a Number One that, to use a rubbed-smooth phrase, ‘sounds like the future’. It seems to open doors, demonstrate new routes British pop could take. If British pop wanted to take them. But that was the question: did it?

4
Feb 16

The Machine Stops

FT16 comments • 1,201 views

tin machine wogan The odd thing about Tin Machine, having finally listened to Tin Machine, is that Bowie’s instincts were dead on. It’s not a mistake at all. He’s listening to the Pixies so he’s in tune with what’s happening in American indie rock; he’s thinking it’s time to strip back the production and make rock music, he wants to make something a bit more confrontational and instinctive… these are all exactly the right ideas for the moment. And yet when he comes to act on those instincts and form his band he ends up with a record of skronky blues rock and some of his worst ever lyrics. Of course you can say he picked the wrong collaborators, but it’s not just that. It really underlines the horrible gulf between knowing what the right move is and actually pulling off that move.

28
Jan 16

ATOMIC KITTEN – “Eternal Flame”

Popular24 comments • 2,413 views

#904, 4th August 2001

kittenflame I feel I was harsh on “Eternal Flame” last time we met it. That may be because the Bangles’ original sounds like a masterclass in dynamics, production and passion next to the Kittens’ effort, which has the romance and mystery of a freshly starched Tesco uniform. In Atomic Kitten’s first appearance here, their glum ex-svengali Andy McCluskey lamented the way his pop experiment was derailed by success: here’s the proof, as the square peg of “Eternal Flame” is forced into a round “Whole Again”.

27
Jan 16

The Freaky Trigger Comics Poll 2015: #12 – #1

FT + The Brown Wedge/5 comments • 451 views

Bucks Fizz “Hi, we’re Jay, Mike, Cheryl and Bobby, better known as Bucks Fizz, stars of LOOK-IN magazine – oh the mischief we got up to! Nothing risque, you understand, it’s a children’s paper. Of course we’re also famous as the inspirations for Amaterasu, Inanna, Lucifer and Dionysus from last year’s comics poll winner, The Wicked + The Divine, which we thought we’d remind you of just in case it turns up again below. Our own comics career has been a little quiet lately but between you and us I think hosting this amazing Top 12 will be just the leg-up we need for a new beginning (mamba seyra), maybe a licensed series from IDW or perhaps Boom! Studios. Move over Jem and the so-called Holograms, Bucks Fizz are back and ready to twirl!”

Thanks, Bucks Fizz! Yes, bringing the curtain down on Poll Month, it’s the Comics Top 12. As usual, an asterisk means I haven’t read any of it but thankfully Kat has once again stepped in to lend her webcomics expertise to the countdown.

24
Jan 16

ROBBIE WILLIAMS – “Eternity” / “The Road To Mandalay”

Popular17 comments • 1,988 views

#903, 22nd July 2001

Robbie Eternity The album cycle that began with “Rock DJ” a year before staggers to its end four singles later with “The Road To Mandalay”, a bitter squib of a song, pulled from the end of Sing When You’re Winning and paired with new track “Eternity”. “Rock DJ” was a party song with an undercurrent of spite – by this double A-Side, the party’s been over for quite some time. The spite remains.

21
Jan 16

ROGER SANCHEZ – “Another Chance”

Popular22 comments • 1,987 views

#902, 14th July 2001

Sanchez “Another Chance” is Roger Sanchez hearing something in the winsome intro of an old Toto hit, cutting it loose, and then letting this tiny scrap of song spin through seven minutes of house music. Or three in the single edit, not as effective: more of less is more. To the songwriters who had toiled to craft these soft rock hits, the use the shiny future put them to may have seemed dystopian –royalties aside, of course.

19
Jan 16

The Freaky Trigger Comics Poll 2015: #24-#13

FT + The Brown Wedge/2 comments • 308 views

Whacky “Hi Readers! It’s WHACKY here from COR!!, the weekly mag that thrashes the others. You’ve not seen much of me in comics lately, which is a bit of a sore point. I used to have to beat the offers away, but frankly, now Corporal Punishment in schools has been given the boot, there’s not been much call for my services. It’s a shame – a good whacking builds character. It certainly built mine. Still, I’m happy to help Freaky Trigger with their punishing poll schedule – they’re caning these results posts at the moment. Here’s the next instalment of the comics poll – I’m sure you’ll agree it features some real belters!”

Thanks, Whacky! I said in the last block of comics that it had the most titles I hadn’t read in. That, er, turns out not to be the case. Apologies for the perfunctory nature of some of the commentary below! As ever, an asterisk signals that I’ve not read any of it. We pick up with number 24…

17
Jan 16

HEAR’SAY – “The Way To Your Love”

Popular22 comments • 1,663 views

#901, 7th July 2001

HearsayWay After the story, the appendix. Back in March, 550,000 people put a full stop on Popstars by making “Pure And Simple” number one. Around 1 in 7 of them showed up for the inevitable, pointless follow-up: “The Way To Your Love” makes it here by simple momentum. It exposes the problem with reality TV acts – the way the end of their story isn’t naturally a beginning of anything else.

Still, you might imagine that was enough interest for Hear’Say to eke out a career. But they were never more than the sum of their parts – recall how the viewing figures for Popstars plunged once the band was actually formed. And those parts – Kym and Myleene especially – were canny enough to realise they’d won themselves a future that would vanish again if they spend too much time flogging this nag.

Behind all that, a song. One which helps prove why the group had no future. The disjoint of five voices had been a potential selling point of “Pure And Simple”, at least – seeing how they might work together was a hook, of sorts. Here’s where it became obvious that the answer was “they don’t”. “The Way To Your Love” is built by producers Stargate along Backstreet Boys lines – individual voices rising together into a unity of yearning. As such, it’s serviceable, but it doesn’t fit a mixed-gender group and Hear’Say can’t give it the lift it needs. “We’ll be stronger together / Than we would be apart”, this record pleads. It’s a lie, and they know it.