40. NELLY – ‘Hot In Herre’: Nelly’s saucy anthem has been worn to comfortable familiarity but its bounce and cheek never fail to please. Like a great thespian slumming it in a Summer blockbuster, he performs ridiculous material with absolute seriousness – his apparent desperation makes the song (well, that and the fact you can’t stop moving to it). Nelly is not a great thespian, of course, or even a particularly great rapper, but this tune will live longer than most of 2002’s more respectable hits.
39. MRI – ‘Tied To The 80s’: Listening to tracks like this you wonder if ëmicrohouse’ was just some ingenious ploy to get all the hipsters back into buying massive shiny dance tracks again, a kind of house equivalent of putting the entries on your restaurant menu in French. If so, it works! OK yes, there is a lot of subtlety here – tiny distortions and cuts and metallic flickers in the mix, which give the track an unreal, stage-lit quality – but there’s nothing subtle about the glorious disco riff and 4/4 pulse which powers through the middle of ‘Tied To The 80s’ and gets your hands straight into the (however rarefied) air.
38. LUDACRIS – ‘Saturday’: This wonderful track was denied rightful ubiquity when Luda’s record label decided to put the fairly dull ‘Rollout’ out as the UK single. The jerky back-and-forth bump of the beats, and the addictive comedy hooks (‘ickyickyickyicky’) are great enough, but Ludacris takes the opportunity to put his elastic mouf fully through its paces; every vowel a treat, every consonant a playground.
37. VITALIC – ‘La Rock 01’: Resolution for 2003 – dance more. A handful of tracks here I heard for the first time out on the floor and tellingly they’re all high up on the list. This bug-eyed monster is pure rollercoaster riff and throb, reinventing the acid house breakdown for the new electro age and pretty much defying write-ups. Like the title says, download this! – or better yet, request it.
36. TRUTH HURTS feat RAKIM – ‘Addictive’: A weird thing about this year – so much music I enjoyed, so few love songs. And I love love songs. This was one of the few greats – an obsessive, heady, thick-tongued hymn to dependency with Lata’s high fluttery sample working on several levels (exotic novelty/great second hook/wordless howl of desire if you don’t speak the language/loving counterpoint if you did). Rakim on the other hand need hardly have bothered – it’s nice to put a voice to the song’s beloved, though, and his perfunctory verse just emphasises the strangeness of Truth Hurts’ sung need.
35. THE STREETS – ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’: The fourth single from Original Pirate Material was also the poppiest, a quick and clanky interbreeding of 2-step and 2-tone which collapses marvelously into gobshitery at the end (the single versh had to slap another track on quick and pretend it was an ëedit’). As often the real joy is in Skinner’s scene-setting – hungover mates talking in a post piss-up cafÈ. I’ve been there so often without even thinking about it: nobody does this better.
FT Readers’ CD-Rs Of The Year: Andy Kellman
01 Triola – “Leuchtturm”
02 Lawrence – “08”
03 Amp Fiddler – “Superficial [JAN Mix]”
04 4hero – “Hold It Down [Bugz in the Attic Mix]”
05 Focus – “Having Your Fun”
06 Crazy Penis – “You Started Something”
07 Metro Area – “Soft Hoop”
08 Brooks – “Dripping in Gold”
09 The Detroit Experiment – “Space Break”
10 Peven Everett – “I Can’t Believe I Loved Her [Giv’ Me Sum’ Beat Mix]”
11 Moonstarr – “Electro Trio”
12 Osborne – “Bout Ready to Jak”
13 Charles Manier – “Bang Bang Lover [Dance Mix]”
14 Dennis DeSantis – “Malpractice”
15 Drexciya – “Song of the Green Whale”
16 Loscil – “Triton”
34. GENERAL LEVY – ‘Taliban Slam’: The Taliban Riddim is a sinuous Eastern thing, as soft as dancehall gets. This is much bumpier, but it’s playful and catchy too, one of the most immediate dancehall tracks I heard in ë02 – Levy not being an MC who particularly thrives on ruffness. Dancehall and hip-hop’s blithe transformation of terror into just another media-meme to throw into the pop pot – Levy singing ‘We got the bomb! We got the bomb!’ over and over like a kid in a playground – seems as true and defensible a response to 9/11,etc. as anything Springsteen or Young have come up with. To quote Prince: ‘We could all die any day / But before I let that happen, I’ll dance my life away.’.
33. STYLES P – ‘Good Times (I Get High)’: I put this on a tape when Isabel and I went on holiday and it came on and I thought, oh dear, she won’t like this, it’s a bittersweet celebration of drug and gun culture which will turn her off with its aggression and nihilism, and within one chorus she was singing along and we were doing funny voices on the ‘Every day…every night…all the time’ bits. She’s right, it is a very funny record (‘Add to that: I get high like the hippies did / in the 70s’), and the helium vox mean it’s doing for weed what ‘Hot In Herre’ did for nudity. The fact that it’s also bittersweet, nihilistic etc. just makes it more effective.
32. KHIA – ‘My Neck, My Back (Lick It)’: Another Isabel favourite, this blank-voiced bass-powered paean to tongue action. She sounds too bored, says a passing housemate, but that’s because Khia is Queen Thug and so gets it EVERY DAY! As for the lyrics – sometimes subtlety works, and sometimes it doesn’t. What I get off on is the dry heat of the drums and the swell of the bass – very simple, very effective.
31. ALISON HINDS feat BLING DAWG – ‘Keep Winin”: The joy of sunshine and the joy of motion – no song praised them as sweetly or infectiously. This random Soca download took my Summer over – my own personal ‘Ketchup Song’ but much sweatier, catchier, more charismatic. ‘Moooove!’.
30. MS. DYNAMITE – ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee’: British people saying 2002 was some kind of barren year for music particularly annoy me, because we’re living through the most fertile period for urban British pop in around a decade. UK garage’s invasion of the pop charts created an audience who wanted a distinctively British urban music and understood such a thing could be commercially successful and community-credible all at once. So it was goodbye soul-pop warhorses like Gabrielle and Beverly Knight and hello the much more interesting Ms.Dynamite, who’s become an establishment darling in under 12 months but shows no signs of letting it soften her messages (as of writing she’s standing up to the publicity-hungry Culture Minister over gun culture in garage, at the same time as fronting an anti-gun campaign – no contradiction, and no co-option either).
Softening the music is another issue entirely – lots of people, me included, loved her MC-ing on ‘Boo!’, and lots of people, me included, want a more garage-based album from her than A Little Deeper turned out to be. But that doesn’t make what we did get a bad thing, Mercury Prize or no Mercury Prize. ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee’ is classic R&B, steeped in poise, sweetness and mystery. A simple statement of identity, it has a confidence and force that simply wouldn’t have been possible without garage’s transformation of British music. The style may have changed but the story continues.
29. THE STREETS – ‘Weak Become Heroes (Royksopp’s Memory Lane Mix)’: Royksopp’s mix does nothing more than enhance a key virtue of the original ‘Weak Become Heroes’ – that it showed as well as told. The distant house piano in the album mix becomes a multitude of far-off rave-era echoes, dramatizing and sweetening Mike Skinner’s memories. Since ‘Weak Become Heroes’ was close to a masterpiece anyway, Royksopp’s restraint is much appreciated. More than ever, Skinner’s flashback blues reminds us that one of the roots of ‘nostalgia’ means ‘pain’, and more than ever it reminds us that it’s a pain worth enduring when the good times really were that good.
28. TWEET – ‘Oops (Oh My)’: Self-empowerment via self-pleasure or Timbaland’s tacky peepshow fantasy? The remixes, with boy rappers knocking out verses and who knows what else, resolve the question disappointingly but the original is teasingly ambiguous and all the hotter for it. Tweet’s voice is all melting soft-focus, Timbaland’s twangly guitar figure a series of sly winks. Wa-hey!
27. 2 MANY DJs – ‘Peter Gunn/Where’s Your Head At’: The uncharitable view of Soulwax is that they’re a pair of smug Belgian hipsters turning irony into money, and yes they probably are. They are also doing – and doing well – what every good hip-hop producer and most good DJs have done since the beginning, which is spotting party genius in unlikely and diverting places. The block of marble in this case is Emerson Lake and Palmer’s live monstering of ‘Peter Gunn’, in which Duane Eddy’s ice-hipped twangthem is played by a lobotomised King Kong. Not at all pretty, but its crushing pomp-stomp power contains the future image of magnificence, revealed when the DeWaele Brothers laid Basement Jaxx’s taunting electromanic vocals on top of it. The yobbishness, lunacy and preposterous joy of what results is a get-out-of-jail card for anything the DeWaeles try over the next sixty minutes.
26. SPACE COWBOY – ‘I Would Die 4 U’: This was on FilePile, after somebody had posted the Prince original, and another poster was aghast – ‘Why do they do this?’ he groaned. ëThey’ being the underhand, underground funk-fakin’ forces of the International House Music Conspiracy, I take it, and the answer is – because they understand Prince better than you do.
House music itself started as a tiny purple idea that grew and grew until it had swallowed its thinker (and everyone else) right up. Or at least it could have, seeing as so much early house draws from a most Princely sex-rhythm-machines-salvation grid. Being compromised, overwhelmed, losing control – this is what’s happening in ‘Your Love’ or ‘Baby Wants To Ride’ or ‘Your Only Friend’. The 4/4 beat is your real only friend, keeping you focused and grounded, stopping your loss of self and soul. Back in the day the self-loss was all in the voice, singers like Jamie Principle echoing and anguished as they cracked up to an unforgiving rhythm. Now we have the technology to make house tracks like this one, a filtered, buzzing, chiming, singing, jiggling candified overload of blissful machine noise. A new peril for the dancing self – being smothered in rapture. And what better song to cover to celebrate this, and house music, and Prince himself?
25. BREEZE – ‘What The Hell’: Hard Drive is my favourite Dancehall riddim – a martial convulsion of the body, a rung alarm and a cosh-on-palm bass. And this is the best, weirdest Hard Drive song. Breeze marches over the beat but his backing singers are the real stars, a high-voiced male choir who sound like thugged-out wassailers, a rude boy glee club. It’s one of the oddest things I’ve heard all year, creepy, funny and psychotic all at once, like the Queen of Hearts in Alice. Off (with) his head!
FT Readers’ CD-Rs Of The Year: J e l:
Avril Lavigne – “Anything But Ordinary”
Poison – “Stupid, Stoned & Dumb ”
Bowling for Soup – “Girl All the Bad Guys Want ”
Milky – “Just the Way You Are ”
Kom’it – “I Can Tell ”
The Vacaciones – “No Me Digas Que Me Quieres ”
Elfpower – “Everlasting Scream ”
Sum 41 – “Still Waiting ”
T.A.T.U – “All The Things She Said ”
Romeo & Christina Milian – “It’s All Gravy ”
Pop-off Tuesday – “6/8 Sutra ”
Megadeth – “Devil’s Island (live) ”
Alien Ant Farm – “Movies ”
Vanessa Carlton – “A Thousand Miles ”
Masters of the Hemisphere – “Anything, Anything ”
Sigor RÚs – 3rd song on album
Girls Aloud – “Sound of the Underground ”
M¸m – “We Have a Map of the Piano ”
Ms John Soda – “Go Check ”
Philistines Jr – “The Cable Guy ”
Freezepop – “Robotron 2002 (all your base are belong to us remix) ”
Shakira – “Underneath Your Clothes”
24. KHIA – ‘Jealous Girls’: Khia’s follow-up to ‘My Neck, My Back’ was even better, and in some ways even nastier: a harsh electro-booty catfight fuelled by screeching, ultra-percussive synth hits. The best thing about it is the way Khia straight-out admits that the jealous girls are completely right – ‘If he ain’t home you call me up swearing he’s with me / And yeah he is! We in Jacuzzis on the balcony’. This sounds like L’Trimm grown up all wrong.
23. MC PITMAN – ‘Phone Pitman’: Pitman is now ensconced as 2003’s most bankable novelty act (credibility- and cash- wise); let’s not forget that part of the reason this first outing was so funny is that it’s such an original, beguiling concept. One end of a crackly phone call to the thickly-accented Pitman, a mysterious character who works as a miner, ruthlessly belittles all hip-hop and stumbles out of the track because he’s run out of tea and biscuits. Ego Trip edited by Alan Bennett with a touch of Viz – who the fuck thought that one up? And six months on, if you’ve not played it for a while you’ll still crease up. Pitman kept the legend alive in December with a perfectly-judged live performance – I’m cautiously optimistic the eventual LP might be more than a one-play wonder.
22. DANIEL BEDINGFIELD – ‘James Dean (I Wanna Know)’: Fr-fr-fr-frus-TRAY-SHUN! Twenty-one years ago Soft Cell were pop stars singing about the grind of being an ordinary guy – now Daniel B is singing with the same desperate intensity, and he IS a pop star and he still can’t what he wants. The electro’s even got harsher in the meantime, too. I read a couple of critics taking the piss out of this record – oh he’s comparing himself to James Dean now I mean really – which absolutely misses the point: even if he was Dean/Sly Stone/Warbucks it wouldn’t matter a damn because he still wouldn’t get HER. And his shrieks of ‘I wanna know!’ are almost frightening. The Kewin Rowland of garage, if he wasn’t such a nice lad.
21. S CLUB JUNIORS – ‘Automatic High’: Oh my God it’s actual kids singing and dancing and being pop stars! Well, yeah, it is, but that’s been part of pop for years now and I don’t see anyone re-evaluating The Jackson 5 in the light of the Minipops. S Club Juniors aren’t particularly sexualized in their image or songs – every kid knows what a ‘high’ is, every kid gets crushes and takes them seriously – and the ‘oooh, pervy’ line of attack is just a currently bulletproof way to mask the old sense that pop is a Serious Grown-Up business and not one for meddling kids. (Given the fierce workrate of the modern popstar, a child labour argument would probably work better.)
Enough defensiveness – why do I like it? Well, speaking of the Jackson 5, this does for the young Michael what Timberlake does for the adult Michael, only more convincingly. Every few years someone in British pop writes a really good Motown pastiche – the Spice Girls’s ‘Stop’; Gabrielle’s ‘Give Me A Little More Time’ – and this time the Juniors got the job of singing it and did the best job yet. Supertight modern production means that the raggedy enthusiasm of the Motown production line – its addictive shoddiness – tends to disappear, which is why these kids’ less trained voices work so well. To be honest, though, I loved it as soon as I heard the all-smiles intro.