31
May 99

The Singles Bar

FT/2 comments • 296 views

A coin in a jukebox, a basement that smells of piss and rust, full of vinyl at ten pence a time, a tape in a cheap cardboard sleeve, bought in a train station, a green courier bag holed where the corners of 12″s poked through, a radio aerial, queuing behind a couple of 13-year olds in WH Smith’s, buying the same thing as them. Dust, static, tape distortion, CD pop: what’s not to love about singles?

The Singles Bar is open to contributions – if it’s out as a single or on the radio, write about it. I’ll put it up here unedited and take it off when I feel like it. For my part, I write about every single I buy, blindly and disposably, trying to capture a rolling pop moment while the rest of Freaky Trigger turns gradually archival on me.

NAS – “Hate Me Now” (released May, CD Single)

Overblown, preposterous pop-hop sampling the Carmina Burana? “Piss Orff!” you may cry, but it was a neat steal back when Hoodlum Priest did it and it remains so today. Anyhow, pity poor Nas, ticked off because his (obviously) envious homies no longer consider him ‘real’ and ‘street’. The envy argument is just as irritating coming from a hip-hop star as from a Tory MP; but then who could possibly think that Nas has lost touch with his roots when his LP cover shows him turning into an enormous gold sphinx? ‘Hate Me Now’ is likeable fluff despite this, which veers once into actually effective Trickyesque paranoia territory as Nas challenges his scrounging wastrel enemies to make off with his limo, girls, etc. if they dare. On the B-Side he thoughtfully provides us with breakthrough hit ‘If I Ruled The World’ and a soppily enjoyable slice of street-swing sentimentality which boasts R.Kelly as guest star.

YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s – “We’re Going Out” (released May, CD Single)

They try and they try, but the early 80s remain oddly unrevivable. It’s possibly because the great pop records of the era sound so rawly ambitious and detached from ‘rock’ that they catapult themselves right out of the music’s history, existing only possibly as a curious ancestor of dance music but useless as reference points for rock (with a few happy exceptions). Mind you, starting off with the belief that the Human League were a novelty cabaret act rather than the most unguessable pop construct of their era isn’t going to help. That’s what Younger Younger 28s do, though, on this dog of a record, which takes the Oakey/Sulley/Catherall chemistry and pisses in the test tube. The NME hated it because it ‘exploits’ working class pop culture, which is silly posing from a publication that’s spent the best part of the 90s presenting working class northerners as romantically thick. No, YY28s is just a bad single, no more. The B-Sides sound like Pulp produced by Hale and Pace.

LAPTOP – “Nothing To Declare” (released May, CD Single)

An altogether smarter take on synthpop revivalism, Laptop make knowingly blank pop like a more commercial, more glib Magnetic Fields. What stops “Nothing To Declare” from being utterly throwaway are its blockily catchy chorus and its streak of miserabilist cynicism: “I’ve got nothing to declare / Except my loneliness”, sneers Mr.L. As a bonus track you get “We Never Got To Venice” where El Laptop gloomily reads a tourist guide to the city while his machines fizz in sympathy around him. (First of all, though, get last year’s excellent “Gimme The Nite” with Laptop cruising the singles bars and failing miserably despite the excellent chat-up lines: “You seem to be a lot like me / A damaged package filled with uncertainty.”. Baffling, but there you go.)

CLINIC – “The Second Line” (released May, 7″)

Another week, another Domino single. Clinic I seem to remember are from Liverpool and wear surgical gear. This wise old head would be passing surprised if they didn’t also own a few Can records, since the tongue-talkin’ vocals on “The Second Line” are school of Damo Suzuki and no mistake. (Which is cool, by the way.) Nowhere near as leaden in their experimentalism as, say, Ganger or Quickspace, this is sprightly, promising avant-pop which still doesn’t quite take flight until a briefly scabrous guitar solo tears up the track near the end. A dullish rhythm section seems to shoulder the blame, typically.

SHANKS AND BIGFOOT – “Sweet Like Chocolate” (released May, CD Single)

The prettiest No.1 for ages is a pop sugarisation of pirate-radio garage, but you’d have to be quite stupidly hip to care, because “Sweet Like Chocolate”‘s lilting, billowing two-step is running the early Summer and making the capital a significantly lovelier place. A vocal part from the Baby D school of house naifs is matched with perfect production; a deep, swoony string arrangement and tiny background arpeggios flowing over a pert B-line. Like Andy Partridge collaborating with Doolally, its effortless grace leaves the rest of the charts behind.

SHANIA TWAIN – “That Don’t Impress Me Much” (released May I think, Top Of The Pops performance!)

Pop debate alert! Shania, after being serially unimpressed by a rocket scientist and Brad Pitt, is (not surprisingly given her exacting standards) also left cold by men who own a car. But in the very same Top 10, TLC strongly infer that a man reliant on his “best friend’s ride” is a ‘Scrub’ (also known as a ‘Buster’, etc.). Who’s right? I don’t drive, so I’m broadly on Shania’s side. Plus, on the new Atari Teenage Riot album Alec Empire gets in on the act too, with “(Your Uniform) Does Not Impress Me!”? May I be the first to suggest a duet? I like this record partly because the leopardskin-clad Shania is marketed as country (despite being palpably nothing of the sort), which no doubt causes strokes in all those authenticists who thought things could sink no lower than Garth Brooks.

CINEMA – They Nicknamed Me Evil (released April, 7″)

On the B-Side, locked grooves spin on into a spooked eternity: eight dour, clattery instrumental bitelets which even this less-is-more junkie hasn’t bothered letting loop for more than a minute. The chilly A-Side is barely less repetitive: a brokenhearted piano playing high, lonely triads forever; a nervy, flat sound which can never quite sink into the background. Around it doors creak and strings scrape as great Bernard Herrman drones loom up from the shadows, hunting for victims. “They nicknamed me evil” mutters a voice, congested and defensive, and then, much later, “Robert…Crichton was my real name.”. He sounds like he’s not even sure any more. And then, suddenly, the record ends.

Comments

  1. 1
    Ben on 3 Feb 2009 #

    Hahaha, two great singles in this write-up… I still love the YY28s track, it’s got just the right amount of, I don’t know, Cockney swagger, perhaps?

    And Shanks and Bigfoot – I’m guessing that by the spring of 1999, the “UK garage” scene was starting to slip back away from the mainstream?

  2. 2
    Pete Baran on 3 Feb 2009 #

    I think my coming out as a Poptimist was my rampant argument in favour of Sweet Like Chocolate at a FT Focus Group, another thing I don’t doubt we will see something of in the near future.

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