23 May 2013
“Love Can Build A Bridge” has one of the best line-ups of any charity single – three women who have each made, on their day, magnificent pop records. What’s more, Cher and Hynde and Cherry aren’t off-form, phoning it in or smoothing themselves down – their voices blend and contrast in exactly the intriguing ways you might have expected.
And yet this is a tiresome record. It’s a simpering bore, a dose of pop castor oil, a lacklustre plod whose only appeal is the background sense you’re doing some good. What went wrong? more »
Tom in Popular • 13 Comments
21 May 2013
I should say from the outset, I’m unreasonably fond of this record. “Unreasonably” not because it’s a bad song or ‘guilty pleasure’, but because it’s not a record I want to reason with. I like it as a trip into full-bore, bodice-tearing ballad melodrama, and it does this job rather well, probably better for being a movie soundtrack without a movie. I want to hear it every few months, I hear it, I’m done – like the thunderstorms of “Think Twice” are dissipating some sort of emotional ozone buildup.
So it’s not something I’ve ever played repeatedly or carefully considered until now. And the more I do consider it the more awkward a thing it is, a strange hybrid of at least three quite different takes on making a big ballad. You have the “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” angle – Celine building it up to knock it down, chunks of drums and power chords falling around her. I’m always fond of that. You have the more up-to-date approach – the ballad as skeleton for a vocal routine, which of course Dion has the technical chops to carry.
But before both of these you have a third ballad-form – one summoned up by “Think Twice”‘s brooding opening, a drift of soft-synth bewilderment cut through by a lonesome guitar lick, a warning of tears and lamentation to come. This is, frankly, Phil Collins territory – songs whose landscapes crackle with sullen potential before erupting into an almighty sulk. “Think Twice” promises something similar – a more wounded, less resentful “In The Air Tonight”. more »
Tom in FT /Popular • 43 Comments
7 May 2013
A few years ago I returned from a trip to Spain with a somewhat disreputable CD – Rice And Curry, by Dr Bombay, AKA Swedish Eurodance chameleon Jonny Jakobsen. Browned-up for this project, and singing songs like “SOS (The Tiger Took My Family)”, Dr Bombay is the most eyebrow-raising example of how older traditions of ethnic and cultural comedy took root in Eurodance – Jakobsen has gone on to perform as Scottish stereotype Dr.Macdoo (LP title: Under The Kilt) and ‘comedy’ Mexican Carlito. And Rednex are in very much the same game.
It’s a feature of eurodance that comes out of European disco – just as anything could be discofied, from film themes to classical music to rock, so anything is fair game for novelty Eurodance treatment, and if it made people laugh too, so much the better. The genre existed in the same amoral, self-serving zone stand-up comedy sometimes claims for itself: the effect on the audience (partying, laughter) is all that matters, and anything goes to get there.
I’m not saying this because I’m personally offended by Rednex’ appropriation of hillbilly culture, it’s just a fascinating and overlooked part of Eurodance aesthetics. I doubt any rock band in 1995 could have got away with the rat-eating, drooling hick-play of the “Cotton Eye Joe” video, but if nobody’s taking the music seriously anyhow, it’s never going to get that level of scrutiny. Or to put it less kindly, there were plenty of other reasons to hate Rednex in 1995. more »
Tom in Popular • 50 Comments
2 May 2013
I’m glad to see the back of this year. As usual, I give songs a mark out of 10, you can too, and here’s where it all gets added up. What gets 6 or more from you?
My bottom scorers this year were a brace of 2s for Man U and Wet Wet Wet, and my top scorer was Baby D, which got an 8. This is now the 4th year in a row where I’ve not given a 9 or 10. (Every year from 1971 to 1990 had at least one 9+.)
Tom in Popular • 57 Comments
1 May 2013
Does every Beatles need a Stones? East 17′s manager Tom Watkins may have come to think so. His group poked their noses into the charts before Take That, but found themselves defined against Gary and the boys, and showed every sign of revelling in it. Take That looked back to disco; East 17 knew their way around a rave. Take That were a five-pack of flavours; East 17 moved as a crew. Take That flexed for your gaze but stayed at arms length; Tony Mortimer wrote songs about eating you out. North v south, cheeky v lairy, smooth v rough – playbook stuff, just the way the pop press like it. One effect of the division is that Take That moved onto ballad territory long before their rivals – East 17 always had a place for mid-paced bump’n'grind, but avoided the real weepies.
Until now. This is East 17 doing a slowie, and really going for it, piling on the trimmings of balladry until the song creaks. To this day it shows up on Christmas compilation albums because it’s got Christmas bells on – the clanging chimes of emotional doom. But it’s got everything else on too (except drums). Something about its shameless blowout ambition suits the season, though: all the overdriven heartbreak of a Christmas Day soap packed into five wailing minutes. By its final choruses “Stay Another Day” is piling the bells and strings and multitracked pleading chorales on like marzipan and icing, finding a space partway between Cliff Richard and Jim Steinman. more »
Tom in FT /Popular • 46 Comments
28 April 2013
After a run of mostly charmless number ones, it’s easy to rate this record: its vigour; its momentum; its status as a memento of good times people were having not as a marker in an album sales plan; its simple reminder that away from the charts the story of rave was still playing joyfully out. “Let Me Be Your Fantasy” was two years old – something people were sniffy about at the time – but history has a habit of squeezing such gaps. It now seems to have the stuff of life about it in a way little else in the 1994 list does. more »
Tom in Popular • 65 Comments
16 April 2013
(This review was originally written as “UB40 ft PATO BANTON” not “PATO BANTON” which actually makes a material difference to my commentary – see “EDIT” section below)
So, the Friday before last was the day that Popular died. Not in terms of its updates – feeble though they’ve been again – but it saw the end of the backbone of Popular, an ancient and unbacked-up hard drive which housed the corpus of MP3s I’ve been writing about, downloaded in a great gobble ten years ago and rarely updated, save when wrong. When I bagged and tagged this horde I had barely heard of torrents or streams – so their loss (and the vanishing of all my other music) is an irritation, and a liberating one at that, more than a tragedy.
But apt, I guess, that this should happen as it’s time to write up a song about materialism. Not in its original, Equals form, but Pato Banton’s scene-saving guest spot here puts a wicked spin on the song’s one-track narrator. more »
Tom in Popular • 41 Comments
24 March 2013
A third album in as many years – for all that they were an honest phenomenon now, for all the still-spiralling popularity, Take That kept their workrate brutally high. Invisiblity is death in pop, and in the pre-net era visibility meant product. Commercially, said product would be as close to a cert as one could want, so even amidst the Stakhanovite grinning and flexing there might be room for experiment. Namely, a seven-minute video to show off the boys’ comedic talents (which proved feeble) and a chance for Gary to do an R&B number. more »
Tom in Popular • 69 Comments
24 February 2013
DEE DEE NANANA!
“Saturday Night” has two big things going for it. The main thing is that it’s one of those iconically simple pop hits, like a “Louie Louie” for the Thomas Cook set. How can you tell when something is iconically simple and not just, er, simple? I’d say when it never actually ends up irritating you. Obviously that’s entirely subjective and I expect to be swamped with annoyed Whigophobes in the comments, but for me this record has lucked onto something sweet and primal. Not, though, irresistible – I’ve generally been pleased to hear “Saturday Night” and am content that it has made the world a happier place in some small fashion, but I wouldn’t own it, or put it on for fun, or even learn the dance. If anything, I like this most for its influence – the enduring post-Whigfield school of plinky-plonk smilecore Eurodance which produced feelgood gems (Ang Lee’s “2 Times”, ATC’s “Around The World”) through the rest of the decade. more »
Tom in Popular • 65 Comments
17 February 2013
I have as you might have noticed a kind of default setting for cover versions, amounting to “you can’t keep a good tune down”. Certain approaches are almost guaranteed to ruin tracks – think “advert pianos” – but in general pop songs are resilient little bastards, able to withstand much greed and deformation. So hearing The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” for the first time, after years of weathering this other version, was a bit of a shock. Here was a song – a very lovely, surprisingly artless song – that it seemed really had been ruined by the pawings of commerce. Not that Reg Presley saw it that way, and why should he? If memory serves he objected loudly and publically to the eventual decision to withdraw this “Love Is All Around” lest it be number one for ever. more »
Tom in Popular • 81 Comments