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Jan 03

Download This! 2002

FT/2 comments • 14,273 views

5. THE RAPTURE – ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’: I’m a bit suspicious of the whole post-punk thing as applied to this record – post-punk was rarely this discofied, and certainly the Gang Of 4 that could have made ‘HoJL”s chops and skronks couldn’t or wouldn’t have made a cut this ready for the modern dancefloor. They wouldn’t have been so parsimonious with the lyrics, either. No, the clue is in the title – see that ëH’ word? ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ even has a big housey build-up and breakdown: the sound of the record, though, is absolutely period-perfect. DFA Records’ lovingly scuzzy sonics are heritage-pop marvels – it’s like they found some secret bunker full of stale 1979 air and have been reverently recording in it since (I don’t know where or when else that bass, sticks and cowbells intro could be from).

So they win you over just by getting the vibe right, and with that achieved you can get off on the groove and the moments – the guitar skittering off at angles; the count-up; the way Rapture Guy’s voice flutters so cutely when he runs out of breath on ‘Shake-dowwwwwn!’. I suppose you could moan about The Rapture, and DFA in general, being all style and no substance, but that’s really just agreeing with me that ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ is a supremely well-designed record. I say that makes it a great one too.

4. SUGABABES – ‘Freak Like Me’: This might have slipped sadly and silently down the rankings, a Spring affair swiftly forgotten – but thank Heaven for jukeboxes, where it started turning up a month or two ago. I put it on once and what do you know, it is a bloody great record. Here’s what I said about in April:

“The bootleg backstory is the least important thing about “Freak Like Me”, and not just because most of the buyers won’t know or care about it. Producer Richard X has distorted the Numan backing and added supercrunchy new drums, so the thing feels like a cover version with a well-chosen sample. In fact the only bootleg-ish thing about the track now is how it’s been produced to sound just like a low-kbps MP3 download, all clattering tinny sharpness and sounds made rough at the edges.

“This is a shock, and a thrill, after a period when most of the best singles have sounded so poised and expensive – “Freak Like Me” presents a template for a fuzzed-up R&B/pop noise, crude as fuck but still excitingly android. (Think of the Neptunes in a garage, building Robot Wars monsters out of loose wires and power tools). It’s also the most rhythmically brutish R&B production in ages, a stomp’n’smack forward march owing more to Glam than Timbaland. You might argue this isn’t R&B at all, but the girls’ voices tell a different, sexier, story.”

FT Readers’ CD-Rs Of The Year: Wisdom Goof

Thomas Newman – “Six Feet Under Title Theme”
Cornershop – “Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Art Star”
Clinic – “Walking With Thee”
Rapture – “The Pop Song”
Interpol – “NYC”
Sonic Youth – “Rain on Tin”
Karate – “Original Spies”
Clientele – “Emptily Through Holloway”
Flaming Lips – “Up Above the Daily Hum”
Lambchop – “The Daily Growl”
Boards of Canada – “1969”
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls”

3. EMINEM – ‘Square Dance’: This track is a nightmare Eminem is having: maybe the rest of us are having it too. Musically it’s a dry run for ‘Lose Yourself’, but that song’s air-punching rock beats are cloying in comparison – ‘Square Dance’ is drier, darker and heftier, catching a moment when a hoedown turns into a march. The song starts and ends with a beef, but it promises something else too – ‘Wrong button to push / No friend of Bush’. I heard that and I was excited – the most listened to pop voice in the world getting to grips with politics, wow! But Eminem doesn’t do that – he dramatises, not analyses, and if the dramatics weren’t ëintentional’ then to hell with intention; this confused song says more about the crisis-ridden times than a hundred editorials.

Eminem doesn’t like Bush, but on some level he understands Bush because there’s a funny and frightening part in ‘Square Dance’ where he becomes Bush, a good ol’ boy accent and country cadence slipping imperceptibly over his own boasts of resistance, ‘Oh no I won’t leave no stone unturned’, and you flash back to Bush after 9/11 – except Eminem’s version breaks down into dosey-doh babble before snapping into place as an engine wails across the backing track, ‘Go to Beirut and do a show there!’. There’s gunfire, and we’re not in the first verse’s world of hip-hop battles anymore, we’ve gone up the rabbit hole and back to reality except reality has got more twisted than even hip-hop allows for.

Eminem as a rapper has one solid-gold trick, which is to start a verse calm and build up a head of panic or rage or mania as his voice gets ever closer to cracking and his words get more and more tangled and his rhymes get denser. Often he blows the climax – on ‘Square Dance’ he doesn’t. In the second verse the garbled rundown of world news reaches a peak as he gets drafted – on the way his hysterical panorama has captured exactly the horrible pace of Autumn, 2001 and made the most selfish possible anti-war case, too. In the third verse the tension builds up again – we’re back to the hip-hop world, back to the beef, and now Eminem asserts his superiority. Making music’s routine to him, he talks crap and he’s still the best, he could have any of you killed, until his patience marvellously snaps, ‘I’m past bluffing, pass the KY, let’s get ready for some intense serious ass-fucking!’. It’s a gratuitously nasty, funny moment, but what’s it doing in this song? Em steps back into his country voice to let you know – some rappers will square dance with him, some won’t. You’re either with us or against us. ‘When I say Hussein, you say Shady’.

2. MISSY ELLIOTT – ‘Work It’: ‘Work It’ is a song about the pleasures of the body and a tutorial in the pleasures of the voice. The message is delivered via gasps, boasts, elephant talk, flipped participles, ‘urr, duh’s, cod-oriental accents, the lip-thrust of ‘cho-cha!’, self-knowledge, g-donks, jokes, fremmes, neppes and venettes. The message being? ‘I, Missy Elliot, am damn good in bed.’. Timbaland mostly stays out of the way, so you don’t have to.

1. CONWAY – ‘Lisa’s Got Hives’: Later, I heard ‘The Block Party’ and thought it was sweet. Wistful, really, a song about memories of parties. But this? This is the party itself. Conway’s bootlegger masterstroke is to ditch the vocals-from-here/music-from-there formula in favour of a true mash-up – almost the whole Left-Eye track is here as well as guitar rollickry from The Hives. (The Hives! Conway is also the only bootlegger to manage to improve on boring source material. Everyone else picks two good songs, even if they then sometimes hit on a better one, but The Hives are just rubbish and so their transition into the realms of the pointful is all the sweeter.)

*
Enough about the ingredients – what’s the dish like? Sloppy. ‘Lisa’s Got Hives’ has an odd mock-Latin flavour, because the pattery bongo sounds blend into the rifferama so well you might think Conway’s using some long-lost Hispanic sleaze-rocker as his backing. Meanwhile the voices have to struggle to be heard, which for once is a great effect, like Lisa’s having to shout above the party din even to have to tell you how great the party is (was). When the kiddy-chorus girl voices come in it sounds like Daphne and Celeste. With the turbocharged backing the call-and-response bit (‘where-you-going/too-a-party/can-i-come/UH-HUH’) loses any coyness and becomes a Pied Piper invitation. And the ‘right foot left shoe’ verse turns into maybe the most perfect moment of the recorded year – a snapshot of confidence, happiness, life.

So of course bootlegs were a ëfad’ – aren’t most things? You could tell just from the titles – here’s the best rock-and-soul party single since Sly Stone and its name is a snickery STD reference. But it’s so easy when something happens in pop to say ‘oh, it’s a fad’ – so easy it’s never even worth typing. You might say it’s a pop writer’s job to sort the fads out from the trends which matter, but I don’t agree. For one thing that’s what the public do, voting with their ears and wallets and mouse buttons. For another thing bootlegs mattered to me, so I wrote about them and I’m glad I did. I think the pop writer’s job is to take fads seriously, to pretend there’s something important about bootlegs, or the new rock, or gutter-garridge, or whatever else you fancy, just like the people we read pretended there was something important about Romo and Elvis Presley. Because you never know.

*
In the essay which started this list off I wrote about how critical authority has been replaced by magpie curiosity (which I misleadingly called being a dilettante). I may have just contradicted myself. It’s not unusual for me to change my mind in two months, but that’s not what’s happened here. I feel like these two positions – overwhelmed enthusiasm for almost anything, and ridiculous devotion to a specific moment – are two ends of how I listen to pop music, and my list has wandered the length between those ends. The point, though, was to give you things to listen to: I hope for some people it worked that way. And if I can say this with a month of it frittered away already – happy 2003.

Comments

  1. 1
    Mr. Snrub on 16 Aug 2006 #

    What a great list!! “Lisa’s Got Hives” really rocks!!

  2. 2
    Greg on 1 Apr 2008 #

    This is still the only piece of music writing that I actually get nostalgic for? I don’t know – it seems absurd to say that it changed my life but it sort of did, not in what it opened but in giving me a way of appreciating not-just-music that was richer and sadder than what I’d had before and replaced it, that wasn’t entirely sustainable when I became a Real Adult and had a lot less time on my hands.

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