7
Sep 04

THE SQUARE TABLE 15 / Natasha Bedingfield – “These Words”

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POP FACTOR: 624 CONTROVERSY RATING: 263

Sometime in the endless pre-release life of “These Words” I decided I loved the disarming ending. A little while later I decided I loved the beginning too – so confident, so cute. And the middle? Well, there is rather a lot of middle. The sound of “These Words” is a sweet, overbearing, slightly malco-ordinated lunge at R&B, as disingenuous in its way as the lyrics. But what odd lyrics! (I like them, as it happens. A few years ago lyrics were by far the weakest part of British pop songs, and nowadays people are at least trying, even if the results are a bit clumsy.)

Anyway, in summary: better than “Single”, better than “The Mask Of Anarchy” (though not better than Scritti’s “Lions After Slumber”), not as good as “James Dean”, not as good as “Ozymandias” (the big tunes are the best), Keats may have the edge on her but she shouldn’t worry too much about Byron. Next! 7 (Tom)

Love song paradoxes no 1. Even for the polygamist, love should be singular: he loves each wife equally, since each has her own charms, her own special ways, her own beauty. But how can the same word, the same concept do equally for each, each time he uses it? If I tell my beloved that I love her, the most intimate is passed through the most general (for haven’t we always and already heard too much about love?): but if I don’t tell her, if I don’t chance my ownmost to the worn-out coin of cliche, she’ll never know. And how much worse in a love song: a declaration of affection which goes not to one, but to all: yet which by some miracle becomes more rather than less in the process, as if the words, the sentiments could be re-charged, and the song becomes anyone’s, a new way to say the impossible: I love you.

This is the contradiction which gives ‘These Words’ their electricity. Of course these aren’t really her words: but how could they be? Love itself is a concoction, a confection, a construction, so the creaking joints (‘from my heart flown’? For fuck’s sake!) of this track are intimately nuzzled up to their topic. Who cares if Shelley and Byron could only write love poems to themselves, with or without the hip-hop beats, and that Keats is too busy hanging around at the cemetary gates to lend us some decent lyrics (‘Romantic poets are not romantic poets’: Discuss)? Hyperbole becomes hyper-bowl and Lynne Truss chokes on her semi-colons.

Skipping across the stage of Top of the Pops, Natasha Bedingfield is a beguiling mess, gabbling the verses, over-trilling the chorus, nervous energy and enthusiasm slopping over the choreographed spontaneity of her movements. Giddy with what will surely be her only great moment — but only great because she’s giddy — the honest emotion overflowing the simulated ones, if only for a moment. These words may not be my own, but they’re the only words I’ve got. I love you. 10 + Joker (Alext)

There is an infectious joy about this song, it’s rare in pop these days. Terrible lyrics with an exuberant delivery. I would never hold bad lyrics against anyone, and certainly not Natasha (Daniel yes – mainly coz he’s annoying). I remember hearing this song whilst taking a car journey on a sunny evening, and it was perfect. A modern classic, single of the year. 10 (Jel)

The verses are really really bad, writing a song about (having difficulties) writing a song, cor blimey, off to the stereophonics naughty corner for you, ms b’DINGfield. The invocation of Adrian Gurvitz is always welcome though, certainly more than shelley, byron and keats in the second verse… The chorus is where it really comes alive though, i mean iloveyouiloveyouiloveyouilooooveyouuuuuuuuu is an undeniably great lyric and the BAM BAM BAM hook is ridiculously infectious as well. i’m sure it’s saying something deep and meaningful about the songwriting process (and probably by extrapolation, THE STATE OF CULTURE), or something, but i just like whistling it. 9 (Carsmile Steve)

Dear Natasha,

It was very nice that you deliberated over how to write this love song but you didn’t need to add the Shelley and Keats line for credibility.

Love & Kisses. 7 (MW_Jimmy)

Sounds like a cross between Miss Dy-na-mi-tee-hee and that Lauryn Hill thing. I’m a sucker for meta-meta, even if it’s NB asking the Muses to help her with a silly love song, and even with D-E-F yucking up its double meaning – whatta G-A-G! As for the “I love you ad infinitum” bits in the chorus – some things are better left unsaid, and the more I hear it, the more I wish it were. As it stands, though, I love thee for eschewing a shout-out to E-B-B (that’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning, kids) in lieu of some true romantics, though I really hope Ms. Bedingfield is aware that “The Second Coming” isn’t about a mighty mighty good man double dipping. (That’s Yeats, dude – Ed.) 7 (David Raposa)

This might be the best single to ever come from this family, unless their Mum & Dad duet on a cover of ‘Save Your Love’ this Christmas (OK I do prefer ‘Gotta Get Thru This’ ultimately). But look out there, sun is shining weather is sweet yeah…and this seems achingly appropriate and TWEE for that. Quite charming ode to not being frustrated with love, only frustrated in trying to express said love. Bit audacious to then think ‘oh wait I can make the song about THAT instead’ but she gets away with it pleasantly enough, and in fact the approach feels relatively novel. 6 (Steve M)

Ms. Bedingfield synthesizes the stylistic associations of Nelly Furtado with some lyrical idiosyncracies that wouldn’t have felt entirely out of place on Nellie McKay’s last album. Those lyrics imbue this song with its character. Unfortunately, in spite of one absolutely amazing three-note hook and a near-perfect chorus, vocal acrobatics threaten to undermine the lyric’s sincerity. This isn’t nearly as convincing as it should have been, and it’s roughly a minute too long. Still, there are some great moments here, and that three-note hook is great enough to earn any song at least a 6. (Atnevon)

This is a lost, glammed up Lauryn Hill track, right? No? Coulda fooled me. It’s effortlessly catchy, perfectly constructed (it enters and exits so smoothly and unobtrusively that you might not even notice it until it’s half over) plus it’s bouncy as fuck… but also lyrically puerile (you are NOT allowed to rhyme “Keats” and “hiphopbeat”, hear me world?), not memorable in the way that Rachel Stevens is and I have a sinking fear that this is going to age about as poorly as Daniel’s stuff does. That delayed reaction is what brings the score down to a 6 (Forksclovetofu)

Songs about writing songs. Usually shameful affairs, like the columnist’s column about thinking of a subject to write his column about, you tuck it on an album and hope no-one takes the piss too much. One of the worst songs of all time, “Your Song”, is a song about writing a song and at least Nat can beat Elton in this case: these words, unlike those pieces of shit, really are her own. Does Daniel have owt to do with the music? Who cares. It is a silly piece of fluff, with remarkably clunky chord progrssions, giggly bits, has already been number one and with that Shelly and Keats line has already assured Ms Bedroomeyes of legendary songwriter status. Bravo. 6 (Pete)

I’ve never been terribly keen on Daniel, so I didn’t feel any great need for another Bedingfield, but this is pretty good, in a vaguely sub-Dynamite way. It’s more than a little clunky in places, those heavy chords every few lines obliterating the singing, but Natasha is fine, and the arrangement sounds reasonably fresh and imaginative. Pleasant, and I’d happily sway along to it, but it doesn’t do a great deal for me. 6 (Martin Skidmore)

Like her brother, Natasha Bedingfield aims for the A D D pop format. Forever going for more (genres) is more (quality), they tend to forget the words matter just as much. Alas, both siblings only treat them as an after-thought. So instead of the statement of the debut – being “Single” rawks, oops, I forgot we’re in the 21st century – this is all about the song writing process. How. Very. Meta. And boring, if you pay attention. Ah well, the radio likes it. It’s a declaration – these words are my own. Natasha, I don’t think anyone really wants to claim them. It’s a perfect kandy kolored radio tune: From the stabbing strings, Ms Dynamite Urban (empty) Soul to the Pink melisma. All the references really give away is that Natasha hasn’t found a style of her own. Very cute, yet also very headache inducing. 6(66) (Stevie Nixed)

Part of me hates the rookie rawness of this pop debut, and I want to say the whole thing should have been canned at the 4 track stage, as it’s quality wise so short of these lyrics promising she’s “trying to find the magic, trying to write a classic” – “Keats and Shelley on a hip hop beat”. Yet it’s an endearing puppy dog song that one can either love or hate, depending on whether you warm to lyrics about the difficulty of trying to write lyrics. An earworm that is frivolous but not offensively so. But me, I hope this single was so tough for her to write that she’ll never write another one. 4 (Derek Walmsley)

I’m sorry Avril, but you have been outdone in the land of anti-corporate corporate pop. Ms. Bedingfield may claim disdain for manufactured singers, oversexed photo shoots, and meaningless songs, but after hearing “These Words”, I doubt a team of industry songwriters could make her songs any more commercial and sellable than they already are. Because “These Words” is a bombastic clump of awkwardly sanitized R&B that not only sends shudders down my spine, it also completely contaminates me with its melodies no matter how much I try to resist. The doctor says I should seek help from Susumu Yokota.

Natasha?s lyrics deal with how hard it is to express yourself, and how easy it is to give in to simplicity, which could have been a very palatable subject if she didn’t over sing each and every phrase as if her authenticity depended on it. Ironically, her notion of simplicity could almost justify the banal lyrics of the disposable pop songs she rallies against. Is it so hard to imagine a clumsier version of Westlife or The Backstreet Boys singing “There’s no other way to better say I love you [than] I love you?”

I may be close to throwing up, but there are bits of fascination in this. 4 (Michael F Gill)

A pop song about writers’ block. Clever, but this generic piffle just does not deliver. Ack. Next time, just buy a Hallmark card. Or better yet, give us the dead poets and drum machines. Funny how NB spends the whole song singing about how “these words” are her own, without really SAYING what those words are. Like in “Krush Groove”, when Run rapped about how good a singer he was. Sorta, but not really. 2 (Henry Scollard)

This is why pop stars should never be allowed to write their own songs, people. According to some hastily cobbled together internet lyric sites, there’s a rhyming couplet midway through this song that goes: “Written by Ricelli and Keys/ Recited in over a heartbeat”, which is either a charming mishearing of young Natasha’s most embarrasing line or a transparent attempt to disguise its sheer awfulness.

Anyway, I’m sure there are others sitting round this table who will rightly have a pop at that bit about dead poets and drum machines, and it seems such a shame to let that act as the lightning conductor for all the critical ire when there are so many other worthy reasons to dislike ‘These Words’. Like the way our Tash can’t decide whether she’s just throwing some chords together or agonising endlessly over her composition. Or the truly appalling minor-key slide into introspection in the bridge. Or the “do you see???” way she sings “kil-ler hook” over what passes for a killer hook here (the chords D-E-F in case you like your pop as demystified as possible).

‘These Words’ is one of the most hamfisted records I’ve heard in years. Where it should slink, it lumbers. Where it should hint at ambiguity with a cheeky look in its eye, it bashes you over the head with its message. It’s quite fittingly clumsy – truly great pop sounds effortless, but Miss Bedingfield wants us to know just how much she’s laboured over this terrible song – easily the equal of such modern classics as ‘Zombie’ by the Cranberries or Stereophonics’ ‘Mr Writer’.

Of course, its not about that really, its about how even the grandest statement can’t match a simple ‘I love you’. Awww. That Daniel’s a lucky, lucky boy. 0 (Matt D’Cruz)

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