Mar 20

SUGABABES – “Hole In The Head”

Popular19 comments • 1,784 views

#961, 25th October 2003

“Hole In The Head” has three tough acts to follow. “Overload”, the one which perfectly introduced the Sugababes and their core idea – talk-to-the-hand teenage moodiness as a girl group operating system. “Freak Like Me”, the one (and the one-off) which brought them back from the edge of dissolution. And “Round Round”, the one which established, with an easy confidence, who the Sugababes were as a newly stable concern. 

Feb 20

Unheard / Unread: January 2020

FT2 comments • 504 views

Starting in 2017, I’ve had the aim of listening to a new (to me) album every day. This has been – for the most part – one of my best ever ideas. That said, in 2018 and 2019 I didn’t actually manage to finish – in fact I only got about 100 days in each time. The error was in trying to write it all up as well as doing it.

Still though, it’s good to have some way of recommending these things! So this year, the plan is more modest – a monthly round up of my favourites from the new (to me) records I played. Oh, and this year I’m combining it with the Unread Comics Project too, an attempt to do right by half a decade’s worth of Comixology sale buys. 

Here are my picks for January.

Feb 20


Popular19 comments • 2,332 views

#960, 13th September 2003

The album the Black Eyed Peas put out before Elephunk featured DJ Premier beats and Mos Def and De La Soul guest spots. The album after it featured “My Humps”. Perhaps there are more dramatic transformations in music, more shameless grabs at pop’s brass ring, than this shift from mid-ranking respectability to world-straddling infamy – but not many.

We’ll get our chance to weigh up the Peas’ platinum-coated Imperial Phase eventually. First, though, the song which broke them – the only record you could credibly claim as a pivot between the head-nodding backpacker Peas and their incarnation as cyborg hit delivery systems.

It’s also – and with hindsight this seems even odder – the only No.1 single explicity about the Iraq War and the wider War On Terror.  There are bands who would have given their granny’s liver to get lines like “Overseas we’re tryin’ to stop terrorism / But right here we got terrorists living / In the USA, the big CIA” to the top of the charts. And “A war’s going on but the reason’s undercover / The truth is kept secret, it’s swept under the rug” is more forthright and plain-spoken than anything the Manics got to the top. Where are the protest songs? Right here. And nobody gave a shit.

To be honest, I’m making this case and I don’t give much of one. One thing “Where Is The Love?” does, as it wraps its occasional truth-bombs in a swaddling of Timberlake-crooned positivity, is demolish the remaining flimsy case for entryism in pop and the value of ‘subversion’. Unless the supposed subversion was so plainly telegraphed and self-congratulatory as to fool nobody, it would slip down pop’s throat with barely a hiccup.

And so the Iraq War’s “Ghost Town” moment – a song plainly against the conflict, at number one for six weeks while the post-war situation tilted from optimism into insurgency and the rationale for the war dissolved in plain sight – was barely noticed. And as such “Where Is The Love?” is the perfect Iraq War protest song: an echo of the February mass protests, where an unprecedented show of peaceful dissent was similarly simply… absorbed. It happened, and it stopped happening, and nothing changed. (Unlike the grotesque chaos unleashed by the war itself, of course.)

So as a song of protest, “Where Is The Love?” despairs – it sees the chasm opening and the only response it can find is shopworn, the early 90s mantra of positivity, which fades even as it’s evoked. Where’s the love, y’all? I don’t know. But aesthetically it’s a different matter – those moments where Will.I.Am and Taboo shake the listener’s collar and try to get their point across are the song’s most desperate and propulsive. The “war’s going on” lyrics in particularly are rapped with mounting and hopeless urgency before Justin Timberlake ushers the song into its beatific chorus.

It’s a swoonsomely pretty song too, in places. The sprightly string lines, and Timberlake’s hooksome coos and harmonies, speak to a group alive to the possibilities pop offers for big feelings and big earworms. On Bridging The Gap, that prior LP, the Peas’ rapping is strictly wholemeal but their fascination with hooks – reusing them, referencing them, translating them – is obvious, and a pointer to where Will.I.Am’s leadership would start to take the group. “Where Is The Love?” is simply the point where he, and his band, admit to themselves that they are just not good enough MCs to contribute much to songs which are selling themselves mainly on those hooks.

So we have an answer for how you get from Mos Def to “My Humps”. “Where Is The Love?”, in form and in content, is an approach hitting its limit. A humane, likeable approach – peace, love, rapping and brotherhood – but one crumbling in the face of the marketplace and the world. New days are strange, is the world insane? The answer was yes, and we were impotent against it. The Black Eyed Peas weren’t the only ones to find their way through the decade by closing their eyes and dancing into that madness.

(One personal point: this is where Popular catches up with itself – the song at Number 1 when I started this project. I was expecting to get here sooner. I was also expecting – well, hoping, I suppose – the topics to feel less relevant. Thanks for joining me on this pothole-strewn road.)

Feb 20

King William’s College Kwizz 2019. FT Round 18

FT7 comments • 127 views

During 2019:
 1 who needed just 7.69 seconds at WD18?
 2 which myopic nightwatchman fell just eight short?
 3 which Servant, having acted the part, was elected in reality?
 4 where did a spiral slide add fun to the Holy and Undivided Trinity?
 5 whose famous embrace in Times Square has been remembered 73 years later?

Feb 20

King William’s College Kwizz 2019. FT Round 17

FT3 comments • 103 views

 1 where did Colonel Ross and the Inspector await the travellers?
 2 where did the duo alight when following up Cubitt’s conundrum?
 3 which little “halt-on-demand station” was used by the would-be anglers?
 4 from where in the Peak District had the prep school Principal obtained a return ticket?
 5 from where did they plan to take the 11:10 to investigate the death of the colonel of the Royal Munsters?

Feb 20

King William’s College Kwizz 2019. FT Round 16

FT12 comments • 168 views

 1 what included the Bill as part of the Rape?
 2 what is long in Britain but short across the pond?
 3 whence the destination of Commons members on resignation?
 4 what was the location of an old world strigine residence of great charm?
 5 in what did conflict between Maharashtrian refugees and the weeping willow lead to arson?

Feb 20

The Freaky Trigger Movie Poll 2019: #10 – #1

Do You See + FT6 comments • 364 views

Oscars Schmoscars, this is the list about five people have been waiting for. And while there is a lot here in common with the Best Picture lists from this year (and last), the conclusion is somewhat different – albeit partially due to UK release dates. So below we have Queen’s, writers, gangsters and some women who don’t seem significantly littler than the average.


Feb 20

ELTON JOHN – “Are You Ready For Love?”

Popular11 comments • 1,960 views

#959, 6th September 2003

Elton John’s best moment at number one comes with a forgotten track from a barely-noticed late-70s EP, lucked onto years later by someone in Sky Sports’ ad agency, remixed (delicately and discreetly) by Ashley Beedle, used to promote the new football season, and received with delight as a lost gem from a national treasure.

Feb 20


FT + Popular10 comments • 1,416 views

#958, 9th August 2003

Dancehall stars have found many routes into the UK mainstream – cover versions and ads; tie-ups with hot producers; hardcore or controversial lyrics; or just basic novelty. Sean Paul found yet another way to make it. His thing was to strip down modern Jamaican music to its hookiest elements and present himself as a readymade star, his bearish baritone presence dominating this and most other tracks he turned up on.

Sean Paul’s sudden stardom came as dancehall itself was having a critical and pop-cultural moment. One of many – UK and US interest in Jamaican music has always gone in waves. In this case, R&B’s promotion of superstar producers – some of whom, like the Neptunes, were open about their debt to Jamaica – meant a new focus on riddims, the island’s own contribution to producer culture, and the way different acts would jostle to land the best voicings of the latest popular beat. “Get Busy”, Paul’s breakthrough hit, rode the perpetual-motion shudder of the ubiquitous Diwali Riddim.

There’s talk of Bob Marley whenever a Jamaican star breaks really big – but Sean Paul’s music fit the comparison better than most. Not, of course, because of any political or spiritual side – Paul, like most 00s pop stars, presented himself as someone for whom entertainment was mission enough. But like Marley he specialised in taking his homeland’s innovations and projecting them into music that was big and powerful and clear in its appeal. Sean Paul was a very easy star to ‘get’.

Also like Marley, he wasn’t averse to downplaying the reggae side when it suited him. “Breathe” is a Blu Cantrell single, but Sean Paul barges his way into the spotlight from the first bars and the song’s more duel than duet. Aptly – it’s about a relationship in meltdown – but Cantrell has to belt and bellow to hold her own against Paul’s gruffalo toasting. It doesn’t help her that the music’s on his side – it’s more beer hall than dancehall, a squelchy oompah-led stomp which turns out to suit him fine.

For Cantrell, that was a mixed blessing. The record’s no-nonsense heft went down very well in Europe, but Americans weren’t so receptive, and it stifled Cantrell’s nascent US career after her success with the sly and vampish “Hit ‘Em Up Style”. It’s a shame – even against this brash backdrop there’s a pleasing swagger to her performance.

And, in the end, you can say the same thing about this song, with all its boisterous honking. There are lots of 00s R&B jams I like more than “Breathe” – but it’s a sign of a genre in ruddy health when its second-division hits are this plainly enjoyable.

Feb 20

King William’s College Kwizz 2019. FT Round 15

FT3 comments • 81 views

Which dual enterprise:
1 could work wonders?
2 took over from West and Wyatt?
3 gives one a shot at Double Dutch?
4 exploited the unique qualities of Siberian Weasels’ hair?
5 created 33 complications in a limited edition of just four devices?