For all my hyperbole, and for all that 2000 was the zenith of the Cheiron sound, it didn’t have the charts to itself. The glut of number ones in 2000 is matched by an extravagance of pop styles – Max and his imitators, futurist R&B, UK garage, pop-trance… joined now by one of pop’s periodic disco revivals. Disco had been an undercurrent through the 1990s, used as a sound both party-ready and family-friendly. Take That and Steps covered the Bee Gees as helpful pop forebears, a good time straight out of the box. The rash of disco-inflected number ones in the early 00s are a little different – more invested in the sound and style of disco, not just its songs. From Melbourne to Paris, a question was being asked: what could modern dance music learn from disco?
“Don’t Call Me Baby” is part of this flush of responses, and not the best. But it’s striking. To play stereotypes, house music aims at the communal – losing yourself in a beat and becoming part of a gestalt crowd, comrades in music. Disco is sometimes about the party, but just as often about the self and how to stand out in that crowd – hustling, mating, showing off. With the stereotypical attitudes come stereotypical drugs, and if you look at the British Crime Survey, reported cocaine use among young people spikes massively at the tail-end of the 90s, doubling or trebling its Britpop-era level.
I’m not saying that a public taste for gak was necessary to get Madison Avenue to Number One – “Don’t Call Me Baby” is a hard, lean, ultra-confident strut of a song, but it’s more about punctured egos than inflated ones. Songwriter Cheyne Coates recorded her vocal line as a guide but the band kept it – in fact they morphed into a ‘band’ because of it. You can see why – her flinty phrasing gives the song its charge. “Don’t underestimate me boy I’ll make you sorry you were born”: just that flash of pure contempt on “boy” elevates “Don’t Call Me Baby” from a pleasant, rather monotonous bumper into something to be reckoned with.
Disco’s emphasis on the self in the crowd makes it a sharply emotional music, rarely introspective but still perfect for capturing the intense sensations and dramas of a night out. “Don’t Call Me Baby” is as incisive and frosty about casual encounters as any number one since “Fastlove” – funnier, too, in its total lack of patience for fanciable idiots: “Behind my smile is my IQ / I must admit this does not sit with the likes of you”. I wish I liked the backing a little more, but this is smart, bracing pop.