14
Oct 07

C90 Go!: Radio Wrong

FT20 comments • 1,079 views

This is a set of 40 reviews of tracks on the Radio 1 anniversary compilation album, Established 1967. They were originally written for Stylus Magazine, where some of them appeared in the Singles Jukebox section. I wrote them “C90Go!” style, i.e. each review was written while the record was playing through, once (there are a couple of exceptions, eg Hard-Fi’s contribution) – so I’ve decided to resurrect that particular feature for this piece. The album is in general dreadful and you shouldn’t buy it.

1967 – Kaiser Chiefs – “Flowers In The Rain”: The Chiefs obviously want to make the track a little less jaunty, but you can’t de-jaunt the Move entirely, so this feels uncomfortable rhythmically, fussing around to cover up the fact they don’t actually know what to do. It makes me realise how inept the Kaiser Chiefs’ backbeats are compared to, well, anyone from the far-off days when British drummers could actually drum.

1968 – The Fratellis – “All Along The Watchtower”: I’ve no great love for the originals anyhow – Dylan playing riddle-me-ree, Hendrix giving it a hollow undeserved power – so I’m not going to cry sacrilege here, but it’s painfully clear that handed anything other than a chant the Fratellis’ vocalist just can’t cope. He sounds like I do at karaoke, when I’ve got hammered and turn anything with the slightest range into a piss-poor Mark E Smith imitation. Meanwhile his band uncover the end-of-an-indie-gig feedback workout that surely always beat in the heart of this track.

1969 – Amy Winehouse – “Cupid”: Does Winehouse normally give it this much melisma – or this much slur for that matter? Pop reggae played competently is always going to sound refreshing but it’s a shame the singing isn’t a little less mannered. It’s like she thinks there’s some kind of hidden dark depth to “Cupid” – of all things! – and is tooling around in the hopes of finding it before her three minutes run out.

1970 – Robbie Williams – “Lola”: I don’t think Robbie Williams has the confidence any more to pull off his great British entertainer schtick – this is a quiet performance, staying well within Ray Davies’ margins. He’s relying on the band to bluster the song up and try for a sense of event which they never reach no matter how often they bludgeon the final chorus.

1971 – The Streets – “Your Song”: Mawkish piano and strings accompany Mike Skinner, who reads out the lyrics to “Your Song” like a special needs student taking an eye test. “I know it’s not much”, croon some backing singers at the end, raising the first, teeny-tiny, suspicions that maybe the artists assembled for this much-touted Radio 1 anniversary project don’t actually care very much about it. Oh I say, surely not, etc. It’s a shame, as if he actually meant it this would be a pretty outrageous bit of brinkmanship.

1972 – Sugababes – “Betcha By Golly Wow”: One of the problems with this kind of curiosity shop project is that, with the best will in the world, people aren’t going to shell out for top-dollar beats and production. The Sugababes know their way round the tune and a lovely tune it is, but “Betcha By Golly Wow” really only works when it’s a heart full of fireworks all exploding at once, rather than the babes sitting round the kitchen table of romance watching puffs of green smoke coming out of a small black cone with the wick half fallen off.

1973 – The Feeling – “You’re So Vain”: You sort of imagine that Mr Feeling is no stranger to vanity himself, but he’s been humble enough to pick a song that you know his band could trot through blindfold – no superstar ambition here. The odd frond of extraneous piano and a ridiculous keyboard coda suggest the Feeling know that this selection is a tiny bit lazy: too late, I’m afraid.

1974 – Foo Fighters – “Band On The Run”: I rub my eyes and drop my jaw on encountering a band who actually know how to add something to the material they’ve chosen. “Band On The Run”, it turns out, sounds terrific with a bit of extra muscle and a tight, frill-free bar-band sensibility. Not only do the Foo Fighters seem to have thought a bit about how to do the song, they also sound like they’re enjoying playing it. I could weep with gratitude.

1975 – Kylie Minogue – “Love Is The Drug”: Minogue has never had an especially full or fat voice but she’s usually known her limits, something “Love Is The Drug” neatly demonstrates. She gives an authentic ’75-style performance, i.e. she sounds a bit like breathy sirens Noosha Fox or Lynsey De Paul – and the backing, despite promising a disco bosh-out, could be a smart re-edit of a period hit. Tidily attractive and hard to dislike.

1976 – KT Tunstall – “Let’s Stick Together”: The version Tunstall is ‘covering’ is itself a cover, of course, and since Tunstall’s approach is to strip out Bryan Ferry’s big-eyed ironic soul and go straight back to Commitments-style belting, you have to wonder how “1976” this all is. Maybe it’s a pub rock tribute! Will make you think fondly of what a very funny and charming singer Ferry is.

1977 – Franz Ferdinand – “Sound And Vision”: Once pop becomes as much about personality as about songcraft, the cover version enters hostile territory. The whirlpool of imitation drags Franz down – musically they’re not going to move too far away from Bowie (though they’re a little sloppier and grubbier), so what to do vocally? Alex Kapranos goes for showy and declamatory and it doesn’t quite work – he sounds like a singer trying not to sing in someone else’s way, rather than one who’s getting inside the words for himself.

1978 – The Raconteurs – “Teenage Kicks”: “Teenage Kicks” is a very simple song, which makes it an awfully easy one to get wrong, and this scrappy, draggy live version manages less spunk than Busted’s. Very obviously something Jack White just had lying around.

1979 – Mika vs Armand van Helden – “Can’t Stand Losing You”: I listen to quite a lot of eurodance cover versions, and this would fall squarely into the “too much fannydangle” bracket – the point of the genre is the headrush of a familiar chorus, which van Helden does his best to sabotage. Mika is far too weak a singer to rescue the situation, and quickly gets lost in his own unpleasant breathy grunting. Taken on its own terms, though, this is a fine, chunky electropop track, unfortunately sung by a prize gimp.

1980 – Kasabian – “Too Much Too Young”: Faithful (though oddly polite) version which begs one question – which member of Kasabian is doing the backing vocals, seen?

1981 – Keane – “Under Pressure”: I was looking forward to this one with mixed feelings. If there’s one band which could capture the slick metronome glide of “Under Pressure” it’s these mumsy smoothies. On the other hand, you sir are no Freddie Mercury, etc. Still, could have been Mika. Both my hunches play out – they don’t handle the vocals very well, but the music has a luxurious flow that makes this sneakily enjoyable.

1982 – McFly – “A Town Called Malice”: I love how McFly are always so eager to please – surely none of them have ever given a second’s thought to the notion of malice, and they attack this song like puppies on a rubber bone. Whether you think it’s moral force or just self-righteousness driving Weller’s original, McFly lack it, but this makes me realise I’d readily buy a cover album by them.

1983 – James Morrison – “Come Back And Stay”: If I ever knew the original I’ve forgotten it – Morrison sounds fairly like Paul Young, though, in the way that Paul Young was pretty much a genotype of a white soul singer and Morrison is trying hard to fit that template. Is blue-eyed 80s soul going to make a comeback, by the way? Ronson’s done pretty well out of pressing the old soulboy buttons. Anyhow this smoulders unappealingly for a bit and then putters out.

1984 – The Gossip – “Careless Whisper”: The Gossip relocate “Careless Whisper” to an indie disco, where lovers and exes throw paranoid shapes and exchange nervous glances. And it works, absolutely – Beth Ditto is a strong enough performer to bend the song into the shape she wants while losing none of its melodic rush. A thrilling, unexpected reading that shows me something new about a familiar song – careful, Beth, yr letting the side down!

1985 – The Pigeon Detectives – “The Power Of Love”: Whatever shrivelled smidgen of emotion might lurk within “The Power Of Love”, the singing Detective seems keen to avoid it, yelping and smirking and generally making sure we all know that he and the lads are having a laugh. It’s quite a weak laugh, though, the sort you might think better of halfway through and maybe pretend was a cough.

1986 – Lily Allen – “Don’t Get Me Wrong”: Winningly gentle jog past this song, making the original seem a little overwrought (and unfortunately spotlighting how clunky its lyrics are).  At its best when Lily starts to sing a bit rather than casually half-speak – the regrettable rise of Kate Nash means the latter trick is wearing out fast.

1987 – Stereophonics – “You Sexy Thing”: Surely every neutral’s most anticipated track, and the Stereophonics do not disappoint. Kelly Jones takes to disco like a rhino to ballet; the world’s shyest wah-wah gloops quietly alongside; he bellows like a robot Rod Stewart and when he sings “now you’re lying next to me – GIVING IT TO ME” you may actually start to whimper in fear and shame. Please someone make them do “Theme From S’Express” next.

1988 – Mutya Buena – “Fast Car”: I hear that Mutya Buena has left her pop band and is now a serious singer who makes adult music! Apparently she is a real girl in the real world and sings real soul songs. That sounds pretty great, I mean there’s only so many Beverly Knight reissues a man can buy before needing something new, but just I don’t know if I can believe it. So what I’d like is for Mutya Buena to find a really serious old song and do a very sincere cover version of it – something nobody could actually dislike but nothing that might excite anyone too much. What’s that? You know just the thing? Excellent!

1989 – Editors – “Lullaby”: Hold on, do Editors normally sing like Bill Drummond doing a Gandalf imitation? One might almost imagine he’s not taking Fat Bob’s lyrics seriously. It’s actually a bit of a shame as the band have worked up a convincing head of gothic steam, and if I were them I’d be a bit annoyed at my singer completely bottling it like this.

1990 – Razorlight – “Englishman In New York”: Pop scientists have searched long and heard for an individual less vocally and spiritually capable of singing reggae than Sting and finally he has appeared: well done all concerned.

1991 – Groove Armada – “Crazy For You”: Given how successful Version has been I’m a little surprised there’s not more Ronsonism on this album, but Groove Armada are flying the flag strongly – a little bit chilled out, a little bit funky, a little bit unusual. Their most surprising decision is singing it (I assume) themselves – whoever their lead mumbler is, he turns a sweet song into a dull, passive-aggressive mope which no amount of clever instrumental touches can lift.

1992 – Paolo Nutini – “It Must Be Love”: Seriously, at some point putting this project together one of the producers must have realised quite how many of the tracks ‘representing’ a year were reissues at the time. Okay, reissues in the charts are always with us, but to have quite so many suggests a high degree of laziness on the compilers’ part. Or at least that’s the charitable view – the alternative would be to believe that they were happy to throw chronology to the wind because of their sincere belief in the artistic merit of, say, Paolo Nutini’s version of “It Must Be Love”.

1993 – The Kooks – “All That She Wants”: No cover version compilation is complete without a dreadful indie band really eviscerating a brilliant pop song, so as awful as this is I feel strangely fulfilled hearing it. And – yes! – it has them playing the keyboard riff on a scratchy guitar – call Big Chief I-Spy! What does it sound like, though? A bit like the Libertines – same annoying distracted yelp – but even more buskerish if you can imagine such a thing.

1994 – Mark Ronson – “You’re All I Need To Get By”: Tender funk-lite version – another cover of a cover, this; it’s remarkable really how few of the tracks here stick precisely to the now-covers-then ‘concept’. Whoever’s doing Method Man’s parts here doesn’t have his charisma but does bring a certain dogged low-key sincerity which adds to the overall sweetness. Ronson dodges a banana skin and walks away from this project with reputation intact.

1995 – Calvin Harris – “Stillness In Time”: So heavily treated you can’t remotely tell it’s Calvin Harris – this is a massive benefit, obviously, as without his spoor on the track you can just sit back and enjoy a pleasant, glittering bit of wimp electro.

1996 – Klaxons – “No Diggity”: A while ago my Dad did a bungee jump, and afterwards he asked if I wanted to see the video of it. I was glad he’d done the bungee jump, because it had made him happy, and he’d not got hurt or anything and proved a point to himself, but I didn’t feel the need to actually see it. Now, leaving aside the fact that I feel a great deal less affection for the Klaxons than for my Dad, this in a nutshell is my reaction to them covering “No Diggity”. It’s enough for me to know it exists, and that both it and the Klaxons come out relatively unscathed, and they’ve proved that a rock band can cover it badly but not disgracefully, and well done them. I don’t need actual evidence though and surely nor does anyone in the world.

1997 – Just Jack – “Lovefool”: Another listless talky track, which makes it official – reciting the lyrics deadpan over a backbeat is the new acoustic guitar cover, a cheap route one method of getting a generic emotional kick out of any song. We’re supposed to find Just Jack’s stumblings touching, I suppose – they’re meant to resonate with legions of stunted ordinary blokes groping towards an honest feeling. But actually they just sound insultingly lazy.

1998 – Natasha Bedingfield – “Ray Of Light”: Replaces the original’s full-throttle blast with a bungled baggy beat, and to balance the loss of momentum TashBed just hollers the whole thing. Surprisingly ill-considered.

1999 – The Twang – “Drinking In LA”: Hollywood fringedom as experienced by the geezer from the Twang? I think not. He sounds quite staggeringly miserable about the whole experience, but unfortunately this is not the misery of a bright young thing seeing their dreams of fame slipping by them day by day, it’s the misery of a sulky Brit on holiday who thinks the cooking’s a bit funny.

2000 – The Fray – “The Great Beyond”: Safety-first performance from the Fray which still manages to lay further dullness and portent on a dull, portentious song. Between choruses the band are so inert you worry they might actually have fallen asleep.

2001 – Girls Aloud – “Teenage Dirtbag”: Live this is great because <s>they dress up like schoolgirls</s> they get Indie Aloud Nicola to sing it. But though it’s comfortably better than most of this nonsense, the studio “Dirtbag” never takes off: one of the big problems is how clumsy all Wheatus’ knowing high school chat sounds when sung by the girls. If they’re going to switch the gender round, you’d have thought they could do something about the keds and Irocs and whatnot.

2002 – Maximo Park – “Like I Love You”: A great deal better than it could have been – Maximo Park turn this into a lost A Certain Ratio track: clammy, doomy, corpse-white funk. The spoken word bits are a mistake but they’ve spotted a cold neediness in the song that works.

2003 – The View – “Don’t Look Back Into The Sun”: As one friend put it “GOSH I WONDER WHAT THE VIEW COVERING THE LIBERTINES COULD POSSIBLY SOUND LIKE”. Well, it does sound like that. There’s something sad and sweet about little brother trying on big brother’s clothes, though, and friends of the buskermen The View obviously would love this to be a world in which street musicians would launch into Pete Doherty songs with a tip of the hat and a jaunty wink. But loyalty, however, touching, doesn’t make for good pop.

2004 – Hard-Fi – “Toxic”: Before the final chorus here, Hard-Fi switch into a bit of the Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac”. Why they do this I’m not quite sure but they immediately sound twenty times more comfortable, spontaneous and biting. This isn’t surprising, because they’ve gone from self-consciously playing a song they probably don’t much like to playing one they do, and the ease is tangible. You feel a bit sorry for them, though of course nobody forced men this gruff and limited to cover “Toxic”. The original is as much choreography as song –  gleaming instant switchback turns from line to line – and even though Hard-Fi are one of the tighter new Brit bands they’re embarrassingly out of their league here.

2005 – The Enemy – “Father And Son”: One basic problem is that if all you had listened to was this record, you’d be really hard-pressed to determine anything at all distinctive about most of these people – The Enemy, The View, The Fray, the sodding Pigeon Detectives. What are they all FOR? What could possibly induce someone to, for instance, be a fan of the Enemy but not of the Pigeon Detectives?

2006 – Corinne Bailey Rae – “Steady As She Goes”: A B-Lister covering a side project is as apt a way as any to finish this utterly misguided record. Characterless mulch that aspires to competence at best and just about gets there. Long live Radio 1!

Comments

  1. 1
    Andrew Farrell on 14 Oct 2007 #

    “they attack this song like puppies on a rubber bone” has made me smile for about half an hour now. Thanks, man!

  2. 2
    koganbot on 15 Oct 2007 #

    I like the alb more than I was expecting, which isn’t saying much but is worth a clap or two as I hated it at the start and was deleting almost everything I heard. I mean, who needs to hear an OK version of “Lola”? Delete. Who needs to hear an OK version of “Band On The Run”? Delete. However, I’ll hang onto any version of “All Along The Watchtower,” apparently, despite liking the song less than I like “Lola.” Go figure. “Cupid” is just all wrong. The arrangement keeps tripping all over itself and stumbling into the singer, which must have baffled Amy (imagine her muttering, “who’s the one who’s supposed to be drunk here, anyway?”) as she struggled to make her slurs signify as music. Anyway, I was really tired and started fading while Kylie failed to convince me of either love or drug; awoke greatly cheered to hear Lily comfortably happy in her Lilyness. The Stereophonics trick of walking on their hind legs was intriguing enough for me to hold off stinging them with my vaporizer, at least for the time being. Mutya was fine though as you say that’s kind of what one would expect; Groove Armada got a growl in their groove, did a good job, I thought. Nutini, whom I’ve barely heard, sounded pretty good doing something I’d barely heard; ditto Morrison doing something I’d never heard. U.S. and Britain diverged sharply going into the Seventies and Eighties, so for me “Who needs to hear this?” is somewhat replaced by “What is this?” Bedingfield is the crazy card and I think she did it right by kicking over the rhythm and acting daft – possibly my favorite thing on here, the other candidate being the Klaxons “No Diggity”: the original stayed so much in its spare Riley rhythm that it never stuck between my ears. Klaxons strip it even more, find their way into watchful passion, which I’ll probably now hear in the original too. Just Jack just sounds thwarted and stuffed-up, but also manages to get me to attend more to the song than I had before. I’ll probably give him the raygun treatment, but not yet. The versions here of “Teenage Dirtbag” and “Toxic” basically confirm the greatness of the songs; the sex change doesn’t work at all in “Dirtbag” and the vocals aren’t nearly adolescent enough and this sounds good anyway. Hard-Fi catch fire when they do a Clash squawk before breaking into the Clash/Vince Taylor “Brand New Cadillac,” but carry that energy back into “Toxic” itself. Its juxtaposition of styles works for me but needs the melody, which fortunately it has. The Fray’s “Great Beyond” sounds sweet and emotional on first listening, on second listening the sweetness and emotions are just kinda there as the thing blands out and I decided that it had served its purpose on this planet. The View were as dumb and dorky as I expected, while the Kaiser Chiefs sucked far more than I’d expected. They’d been a good little neo new wave band for a while, hadn’t they?

    Things like this are usually good in bits rather than overall, but that’s what the delete button is for.

  3. 3
    koganbot on 15 Oct 2007 #

    “served its purpose on this planet” – i.e., its job here was done.

  4. 4
    byebyepride on 15 Oct 2007 #

    omg @ yr dad’s bungee adventures!

  5. 5
    byebyepride on 15 Oct 2007 #

    also the thought of yr mum’s face when she realised that this was something he was actually going to do…

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 15 Oct 2007 #

    I would like Tom to explain/qualify/justify “hollow undeserved power” apropos “Watchtower.”

  7. 7
    Tom on 15 Oct 2007 #

    “Power” bcz Hendrix gives it power: his version is more apocalyptic and awesome than the original.

    “Undeserved” bcz I sort of wish he’d chosen a different song to give power to: Dylan’s sketchy song doesn’t deserve this treatment. (I like lots of John Wesley Harding but not this one)

    “Hollow” bcz the not-liking the song overshadows the power so the power is wasted on me.

  8. 8

    the song is a bad-tolkien fragment really — or bad moorcock! — but this kind of dilemma is interesting territory: cf eg coltrane use of “my favorite things” as a vehicle; not a subversion, not a celebration, not even a redemption — more like a tunnel out, from a really unexpected place, into the rest of the cosmos

    (i am not really a huge coltrane fan but i always liked that he did this)

  9. 9
    Marcello Carlin on 15 Oct 2007 #

    Exactly.

    Also the Atlantic original of ‘Trane’s “Favorite Things” has future world snooker champion Steve Davis on bass!

  10. 10
    Tom on 15 Oct 2007 #

    The thing is, surely Hendrix was more than capable of building his own tunnels out?

  11. 11

    are you some kind of rockist!?

  12. 12
    Marcello Carlin on 15 Oct 2007 #

    *GROAN*

  13. 13
    Marcello Carlin on 15 Oct 2007 #

    All this reminds me that a much better 1986 choice for Lily would have been “Snooker Loopy.”

  14. 14
    mike on 18 Oct 2007 #

    Kaiser Chiefs: 5. Serviceable.
    Fratellis: 6. Entertaining.
    Amy Winehouse: 9. Immaculate.
    Robbie Williams: 4. Lacklustre.
    The Streets: 1. Piss-poor.
    Sugababes: 4. Predictable.
    The Feeling: 3. Disappointing.
    Foo Fighters: 9. Shocked!!!
    Kylie Minogue: 7. Slinky.
    KT Tunstall: 6. Amiable.
    Franz Ferdinand: 5. Reverential.
    The Raconteurs: 2. Pointless.
    Mika vs Armand Van Helden: 3. Ugly.
    Kasabian: 3. Gormless.
    Keane: 6. Pleasant.
    McFly: 7. Cute.
    James Morrison: 4. Boring.
    The Gossip: 8. Original.
    Pigeon Detectives: 5. Efficient.
    Lily Allen: 7. Understated.

  15. 15
    Marcello Carlin on 19 Oct 2007 #

    How I would have done it:
    1967 Kaiser Chiefs I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman
    1968 Fratellis Lily The Pink
    1969 Amy Winehouse Oh Well
    1970 Robbie Williams Groovin’ With Mr Bloe
    1971 The Streets Ernie
    1972 Sugababes Elected
    1973 The Feeling Big Seven
    1974 Foo Fighters Band On The Run*
    1975 Kylie Minogue Funky Moped
    1976 KT Tunstall No Charge
    1977 Franz Ferdinand The Crunch
    1978 Raconteurs Ole Ola
    1979 Mika/Armand van Helden Wanted
    1980 Kasabian …And The Birds Were Singing
    1981 Keane Hooked On Classics
    1982 McFly Theme From Harry’s Game
    1983 James Morrison Snot Rap
    1984 The Gossip Careless Whisper*
    1985 Pigeon Detectives Lean On Me (the Red Box one)
    1986 Lily Allen Snooker Loopy
    1987 Stereophonics Male Stripper
    1988 Mutya Buena Buffalo Stance
    1989 Editors I Beg Your Pardon
    1990 Razorlight Infinity (Time For The Guru)
    1991 Groove Armada Innuendo
    1992 Paolo Nutini Raving I’m Raving
    1993 Kooks Exterminate!
    1994 Mark Ronson Come On You Reds
    1995 Calvin Harris Cliff Dweller Society
    1996 Klaxons Throw Those Guns Away
    1997 Just Jack Candle In The Wind ‘97
    1998 Natasha Bedingfield C’est La Vie
    1999 Twang Millennium Prayer
    2000 Fray 21 Seconds
    2001 Girls Aloud I Dream A Highway
    2002 Maximo Park The Ketchup Song
    2003 The View Ignition Remix
    2004 Hard-Fi F.U.R.B.
    2005 The Enemy It’s Now Or Never
    2006 Corinne Bailey Rae It’s Chico Time
    (*good enough to stand as they are)

  16. 16

    marcello for controller of radio 1 *NOW*

  17. 17
    jeff w on 19 Oct 2007 #

    Groove Armada – Innuendo

    This one made me laugh out loud

  18. 18
    mike on 19 Oct 2007 #

    The Streets – Ernie.
    I can completely hear this…

    Natasha Bedingfield – C’est La Vie.
    Now, this one could seriously work…

  19. 19
    fivelongdays on 22 Oct 2007 #

    The Streets doing Ernie – best idea of all time (this week).

  20. 20
    Fiona on 2 Dec 2008 #

    I like the view’s cover better than the original. The Fratellis are good, Paolo Nutini’s good, the rest is pretty much shite.

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