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6
Sep 18

BLAZIN’ SQUAD – “Crossroads”

Popular24 comments • 1,341 views

#934, 31st August 2002

If Blazin’ Squad had never existed, would it have been necessary to invent them? You suspect record labels would have given it a so-solid try: a hydra-headed rapping crew, but full of youthful good looks and free of nasty predelictions? Too good to resist, at least in this weird, early-00s phase where it’s equally clear that the public want to buy rap records (maybe even British ones!) and the labels don’t have much idea what will or won’t cross over.

In fact, before I did my research, I assumed Blazin’ Squad were ‘manufactured’. Now I’d prefer to call it ‘sculpted’ – from the marble of an eager bunch of North London schoolfriends somebody carved this hit cover. Why “Crossroads”, though? A proven earworm; a familiar chorus and a structure with plenty of space for voices to gather and mingle.

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10
May 18

SUGABABES – “Round Round”

Popular19 comments • 2,448 views

#933, 24th August 2002

sugaround Xenomania – the songwriting and production team on “Round Round”, led by Miranda Cooper and Brian Higgins – defined 00s British pop, at least in the eyes of chart-friendly critics. Their magpie approach to genre, their patchwork song structures, their knack for a resonant line, all added up to music that wore its artfulness and populism with equal pride. If you believed that pop was worth celebrating, Xenomania provided gift-wrapped proof.

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11
Feb 18

DARIUS – “Colourblind”

Popular38 comments • 3,198 views

#932, 10th August 2002

9107BD35-B240-405A-9FD3-5D696EB34B86 Such was the grip of Pop Idol on the singles-buying imagination that two winners weren’t enough – bronze medalist Darius Danesh got a career too. But “Colourblind” is not just a participation medal. In Darius we see not one but two of the classic reality pop tropes make their appearance. First of all – in his note-strangling debut on the Popstars series, wrestling “Baby One More Time” to the ground like prehistoric man tackling an aurochs, there’s the Freak: the terrible performer armoured in their own self-confidence who we indulge because we want to see what on earth they’ll do next.

There’s little question that if the public had been given any say in things we’d have seen more from Darius in Popstars. But by the time they got a chance to vote for him and carry him to third place in Pop Idol, he’d reinvented himself to fit the second trope, the Artist: the figure who is Actually Talented but who must yet put themselves through the circus of a singing competition to gain recognition. “Colourblind”, fittingly, was a self-penned composition he’d been ‘working on’ before Pop Idol. (Actually this is entirely believable – its procession-of-colours lyric certainly feels like the kind of solid but banal structure a beginning songwriter might try.)

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1
Feb 18

GARETH GATES – “Anyone Of Us (Stupid Mistake)”

Popular17 comments • 1,994 views

#931, 20th July 2002

gates anyoneIf you’re going to apologise for infidelity, “it could happen to anyone” is not the best starting point, but in its very callowness this is a much more suitable song for Gareth Gates than any of the other stuff he was handed. Gates’ selling point – the reason he’d almost won – was his teen idol innocence, a perception of naivety which gave the tabloids a stereotype-fuelled field day when he had a fling with Katie Price.

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23
Jan 18

ELVIS VS JXL – “A Little Less Conversation”

Popular44 comments • 3,173 views

#930, 22nd June 2002

elvis jxl 2002 was the 50th anniversary of the charts, and Elvis had been dead for half those fifty years. The scale of the public reaction upon his death took media observers by surprise; the Elvis industry kept on rolling, turning a star back into an icon. By 2002 the name was still household, the face still instant, his life and death bywords for some kind of American promise, or tragedy, or comedy. What about the music? There, perhaps, was a problem. Was Elvis “relevant”?

“Who cares?” you might ask. To the people who stood to make money off it, that response was naive. But for some there was also a question of cultural propriety – Elvis was the first dead rock’n’roll icon whose work risked losing its audience, fading into a gentle twilight, respected but hardly heard. His partisans might not have put it so crudely, but the impulse was clear – Elvis mattered, and had to be seen to matter. The corpse must be re-powdered and kept on show.

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12
Nov 17

WILL YOUNG – “Light My Fire”

Popular44 comments • 3,290 views

#929, 8th June 2002

will young fire It’s hardly unusual for a reality TV star to try and cement their precarious fame with a cover version. Will Young’s puckish take on “Light My Fire”, a cover of Jose Feliciano’s cover of Jim Morrison’s signature come-on, is particularly well-taken. His verse delivery is enjoyably arch, keeping a distance between himself and the hoary material, but he gives enough of an impression of losing himself in the chorus for it not to be a total mickey-take. The overall impression is of an unusually honest take on contractual obligation – “I know this is how the game is played, and I’m going to play it, but I’m not going to con you, so let’s make this as fun as we can.”

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14
Sep 17

EMINEM – “Without Me”

Popular41 comments • 3,800 views

#928, 1st June 2002

without me Eminem produced “Without Me” himself, and the sound of this song is the best thing about it, a thick, soupy, snaky bassline and a brutally four-square beat. Ironic that this is the record where he calls out Moby – “nobody listens to techno!” – as the goonish thunk of “Without Me” is the most robotic version of Marshall Mathers yet. And the least funky, not coincidentally. It’s a production stripped back to make more space for Eminem’s tongue-twisting insults, and to be as legible as possible to the army of new, white hip-hop fans he’s presuming are out there, waiting out a turgid pop landscape until their rascal prince returns.

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31
Aug 17

LIBERTY X – “Just A Little”

Popular12 comments • 2,059 views

#927, 25th May 2002

liberty x The remarkable speed with which their public turned on Hear’Say left things open for readymade rivals to add a twist to the story, and Liberty X – a band of Popstars runners-up – stepped up. Their angle was obvious – you, the discerning pop connoisseur, would show yourself a better judge of star potential than “Nasty Nigel” et al, rewarding the group with the real chemistry and talent. Hear’Say had been so popular they quickly became embarrassing: Liberty X would be reality TV pop done right.

This position was greatly helped by “Just A Little”, which really was a lesson in how to build a good pop single for a lashed-together group. It did two things that winners’ singles tended to botch. It sounded like its writers had bothered to listen to music from the last few years, and the group was blessedly unable to take the dire metatextual route of singing about their gratitude for winning.

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25
Jul 17

RONAN KEATING – “If Tomorrow Never Comes”

Popular13 comments • 2,190 views

#926, 18th May 2002

ronan tomorrow I have been playing a lot more country music than usual lately, thanks to recommendations by wise friends of foundational albums. It seems to me that listening to country is, inescapably, listening to tradition. Country artists emerge within a tradition and while they may modernise, criticise, expand, revive, reinvent or inherit that tradition, they do not reject it. Roberto Calasso, the Italian philosopher of tradition and ritual, was talking about Vedic seers and the Catholic Church rather than Garth Brooks when he waxed lyrical about how tradition confers a gauze of quasi-mystical legitimacy on individuals and institutions, but the point applies just as well.

Calasso is no idiot – a conservative via pessimism rather than conviction, he knows full well that legitimacy and tradition are just what happens when enough people have chosen to forget past thefts and usurpations. Country music isn’t really more authentic or sincere than all the other kinds, but the investment in tradition gives it an aura of sincerity, of straight-talking honest-truthing God-fearing realness, whose aesthetics and effects are visible enough even if the aura itself is often flimsy. (Calasso understands that the gauze of legitimacy is, by its nature, quite easily shredded – he just thinks that what happens after tends to be worse. What he makes of former Boyzone singer Ronan Keating is unknown, but may be guessed at.)

What makes country music great is that this aura is itself a gateway to expression and tonal play – once the tiresome question of “do they mean it, man?” is taken off the table, the music is opened up more to camp, schmaltz, vulgarity, corn, lust, metaphysical awe and dread, and yes, honest attempts to couple with thorny adult problems and emotions, of which, whether I actually like it or not, “If Tomorrow Never Comes” is one.

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18
Jul 17

HOLLY VALANCE – “Kiss Kiss”

Popular16 comments • 2,382 views

#925, 11th May 2002

valance “Freak Like Me” is a rare case where hit covers and mutations keep building on the foundations of a song, finding new things in it. At this point in pop, the opposite was more often true. “Kiss Kiss” is a good single – in the context of the charts, its dipping and rolling Turkish rhythms are delightfully fresh, a showy flourish across a grey backdrop. But hearing the singles it was based on – Tarkan’s “Simarik” and Stella Soleil’s remake of it as “Kiss Kiss” – lets you hear possibilities this version closes down.

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