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Jun 15

SPICE GIRLS – “Holler”/”Let Love Lead The Way”

Popular48 comments • 2,273 views

#879, 4th November 2000

spiceholler The original concept for the third Spice Girls album – according to Stannard and Rowe, the writers and producers the group jilted for Forever – was that it would concern the girls becoming women, the group maturing along with their audience. Even ignoring the fact that these “girls” were already the five most successful women in British music and sticking purely to the branding, It wasn’t the most promising of ideas. Sure, a lot of the charm and quality of Spice was how unapologetic it was in drawing inspiration from teen magazine problem pages – balancing friends and boys; safe sex; being nice to your Mum. It might have aimed itself squarely at a particular market, but it didn’t talk down to them – and in not doing so, it won a far huger audience. But Spiceworld had already moved away from that, and besides, there were plenty of grown-up alternatives out there. The Spice Girls never making anything like “Black Coffee” was no shame: forcing themselves to try might have been.

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May 15

STEPS – “Stomp”

Popular37 comments • 2,161 views

#878, 28th October 2000

Stepsstomp A visit to budget supermarket Aldi is a pop semiotician’s delight. The shelves are lined with Aldi’s own versions of name brands, all designed to trick – or reassure – the mind that what you’re buying is almost the authentic one, or at least so close in look as to be close in quality. The game is always to create packs that feel as near to the model brand as possible without actually drawing down any lawyerly wrath.

At Asda, for instance – where name brands sit alongside the store ones – the own-label version of Coco Pops is called Choco Snaps and features a bemused bear, not a cheeky monkey, and a large black banner with the supermarket logo. Aldi has no such modesty: its Choco Rice comes in the bright yellow livery of Kelloggs’ and has a monkey of its own. Working as Aldi’s designers must be an entertaining job, with a measure of critical analysis required to negotiate the gap between the identifiable parts of a brand and the legally defensible ones.

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May 15

U2 – “Beautiful Day”

Popular148 comments • 4,633 views

#877, 21st October 2000

u2beautiful A theological detour. The rise of New Atheism – Dawkins et al. – seems to have made it somewhat infra dig for lifelong unbelievers like me to admit there are things we respect and admire about religions and the religious. But of course there are. For instance, one of the things I find most admirable – perhaps I just mean enviable – when I meet it in Christians is the sense of faith as a reserve of redemptive strength. The feeling that, no matter how bad things are, no matter how bad you are, Jesus loves you. The fact I don’t believe in him doesn’t invalidate the testimony of millions who have found this kind of grace when they needed it – any more than their belief invalidates the experience of those who reached for it and could not find it. I believe what they’re taking is a placebo; they believe it’s the real thing. Whoever’s right, they get a chance at the benefit, and I don’t.

Or don’t I? That kind of feeling saturates “Beautiful Day” – one of U2’s most obviously Christian singles, full of grace and floods and doves and no-room-at-the-inn. And I feel this song well enough. I think it’s the most honest and moving record Bono and the crew have landed at Number One – the one where the reliquaries of rock’n’roll and the baggage of experiment are jettisoned, and Bono sings a big, slick modern rock song about faith. Sings it well and cleverly, too – the quiet, beaten-down tone of the opening verse, that halting gap on “lend – a hand”, the breakdown into gutterals on some of the closing chorus lines; these things dramatise the idea of a man on his last chance. “Reach me – I know I’m not a hopeless case”, he pleads: there’s a need I can relate to sometimes. You don’t need to feel God is your judge to understand the urge for redemption. Irony abounds, of course – Bono’s performance here rests on him selling the idea of himself as a man of great humility. But sell it he does.

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May 15

ALL SAINTS – “Black Coffee”

Popular68 comments • 2,994 views

#876, 14th October 2000

saintscoffee All Saints’ final number one is their most oblique, their most grown-up, also their finest. The song barely glances at its title – a pair of words out of a hundred in the lyric – but the whole record is a glance or a quiet smile, a celebration of tiny satisfactions, and of finding yourself with someone who conjures them so easily. “Each moment is cool / freeze the moment”. It’s a song, most of it, about feeling contented – a rare subject for pop, which prefers to nose out conflict (the video finds some anyway, staging “Black Coffee” as a post-Matrix bullet time break-up drama). There are songs – cousins to this, like “I Say A Little Prayer” – that capture the way love makes the everyday blush with significance, but “Black Coffee” is after something more comfortable. A day with your lover, as casually sweet as all the other ones. Nothing’s perfect, but “Black Coffee”’s rippling, overlapping melody lines make even the quarrels sound blissful.

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May 15

MARIAH CAREY AND WESTLIFE – “Against All Odds”

Popular44 comments • 4,753 views

#875, 30th September 2000

westlife against I don’t know if “Against All Odds” is the best Phil Collins song. I suspect it is. But it’s certainly the most Phil Collins song, the complete conjunction of things you might associate with Phil Collins: song-shifting drum breakdowns, male pattern agony, everybloke blues. It’s also a song that attracts covers: writing about one of them on NYLPM, I said: “The ur-version of “Against All Odds” will always be by a drunk divorced man in a suburban karaoke, singing his desperate heart away – Phil’s original is just a guide vocal.”

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May 15

MODJO – “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)”

Popular44 comments • 2,073 views

#874, 16th September 2000

modjo “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)” came hard on the heels of “Groovejet” as a revivalist disco hit. It also works as a despondent, pleading answer record: where Sophie Ellis-Bextor embraces the dancefloor as a flirtatious zone of mystery and ambiguity, “Lady” begs for resolution. Lyrically, musically, emotionally, it circles its sampled groove like water circling a drain. Where “Groovejet” is spry, happy to lose itself in the possibility of disco, “Lady” finds a rut and keeps scratching it deeper in its despairing neediness. The singles’ proximity does “Lady” no favours – this suitor, and his simple plea, is run rings round.

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Apr 15

A1 – “Take On Me”

Popular72 comments • 2,688 views

#873, 9th September 2000

A1take A single that’s good for one thing, at least: “Which group got to No.1 with Take On Me?” is a reliably sneaky pop quiz question. Beyond that, it’s tempting to dismiss A1’s version as irrelevant. Doubly tempting if you were 12 in 1985, and the clean surge of that keyboard riff still sounded like the bright world of life and youth and adventure opening up in front of you. It’s not that a cover version is any kind of sacrilege – just that you can’t update the eternally young. But listen again and A-Ha’s original sounds stuck in its time: the synthesisers thin, the drum sound hollow and deadened. That doesn’t make it less glorious to me, it just reminds me of the work memory does in making songs great. Why not give new 12-year olds a chance for memories of their own?

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Apr 15

MADONNA – “Music”

Popular67 comments • 3,176 views

#872, 2nd September 2000

madonna music “Her whole career’s been like, oh, they’re the trendy person of the moment, I’ll work with them to make me younger. They’re using you.” – Aphex Twin on Madonna, 2001.

I am the same age now – just turned 42 – as Madonna was when she released “Music”. Last week, with delightful serendipity, Spotify released a study suggesting that listeners hit a “musical mid-life crisis” at 42, as their tastes suddenly skew (a little) back towards the mainstream: are they trying to keep up? Was Madonna? The image of her as trend-chasing, desperate, even “vampiric” (as that Aphex interviewer glossed it) has hardened as the hits dried up. But the Aphex quote shows it was current in the Music era – how he framed the singer’s interest in working with him.

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Apr 15

SPILLER – “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)”

Popular107 comments • 3,838 views

#871, 26th August 2000

spiller groovejet The revival of disco within pop put a spotlight on something that had gone missing over the 90s: a sense of music not just for dancing, but for dancing with someone. Disco was a music of mutual attraction: cruising, flirtation, negotiation. Its dancefloor is a space for immediate pleasure, but also for promises kept and otherwise. It’s a place where things start, but their resolution, let alone their meaning, is never clear. All of 2000’s great disco number ones explore how to play this hand. Madison Avenue look to impose their will upon it, to set terms and roles. Spiller is less rigid. “Groovejet” accepts the night’s changeability, happily sells out certainty for an amused smile and a few great one-liners. “Just for one lifetime I can be your pastime”, “In it together till I know you better.” Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s original chorus precisely caught the song’s resigned swoon: “And so it goes… how does it feel so good?”.

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Apr 15

MELANIE C – “I Turn To You”

Popular49 comments • 2,472 views

#870, 19th August 2000

melciturn What does a Mel C record sound like? Not an easy question. Her solo singles ask more, in terms of brand loyalty, than any other Spice – she was respected for her voice, and the assumption is you’ll want to follow it through flashy Britrock (”Goin’ Down”), acoustic soft pop (”Northern Star”), twilit R&B (”Never Be The Same Again”) and now muscular pop-trance. And that’s without bringing Bryan Adams into it. There’s something very appealing about this hopscotch approach, but almost none of the songs are strong enough to sell Melanie C as more than a dabbler.