Jul 15

EMINEM – “Stan”

Popular51 comments • 4,086 views

#885, 16th December 2000

emstan “Stan” is a murder ballad. A song – not the first or last such Eminem recorded – about killing a woman. If this seems a strange way to look at it, it’s because the record takes pains to make its murder incidental. Its victim is nameless. We know Stan’s name. We know his brother, Matthew’s. We know Slim, the persona Stan is writing to, and we know Marshall Mathers, the man who replies. We even know a possible name for the child the murdered woman is carrying. We do not know her name. That isn’t where we’re supposed to be looking. The spotlight in the song is on the relationship between two men, star and fan. It’s how Stan would have wanted it.

Still, the murder is not incidental: it’s the climax of the record. All through the song, beautifully layered under the vocals, are background noises. They accompany Eminem’s conversational, half-spoken rapping and the unassuming, mid-tempo beat: literal scribbles in the margin of the track, encroaching thunder and rain. In the third verse, the rain is broken up by the wet swoosh of a car windscreen wiper, and, on cue, a woman screaming. Her death, and Stan’s, are what this track has been leading up to.

Jul 15

S CLUB 7 – “Never Had A Dream Come True”

Popular28 comments • 1,739 views

#884, 9th December 2000

sclubnever “Never Had A Dream Come True” is enjoyably drippy, but does nothing to shake my sense that S Club 7 are the blandest proposition of this pop era. Like their other early records, it’s aimed at kids, and it feels aimed at kids: a Fisher-Price heartbreak set, a ballad which is as much a teaching aid for what ballads are like as a track in its own right. It doesn’t do its job at all badly, though. It fills the mulled December ballad gap the Spice Girls left behind, and the decision to drop the band element and give the whole track to Jo O’Meara works, gives the heartache a consistency and intensity the song probably wasn’t strong enough to sustain with a group vocal. There’s an air of innocent sincerity to this despite its functional TV show origins, one that lets it get away with its purely textbook sentiment. It’s an ordinary song done as well as it could have been.

Jul 15

DESTINY’S CHILD – “Independent Women, Part 1″

Popular71 comments • 2,898 views

#883, 2nd December 2000

destinyswomen It’s hard not to let what Beyoncé Knowles was become swamped by what she is. A veteran, an icon, a woman enjoying a remarkable critical peak, an earner, second only to headphone mogul Dr Dre on current musical money lists – Beyoncé, as she is happy to tell us, works astonishingly hard, but one of the things she works at is controlling her narrative, shaping her career so that each step seems higher than the last, and her success appears pre-ordained. It was there in the name of her own group. “Child of destiny… independent me…”. But that’s only a story. Nothing is really inevitable, and Beyoncé enters Popular running, working, managing her options, using her group’s remarkable success as a springboard, while trying to win a PR battle over the palace coup that finished a multi-platinum line-up and cut a quartet to a reshuffled trio.

Jun 15

New Popular Entries: Where And When?

Popular21 comments • 981 views

Hello – just a quick note to reassure people that we haven’t gone back to the bad old days of no updates. My situation is as follows – I’ve been on a long, complicated work project which finishes tomorrow. Then on Tuesday I’m going into hospital to have my gall bladder taken out – if all goes well I’ll be out on Tuesday night and will be recuperating for a week or two. At some point during that I’ll start updating Popular regularly again!

(The next entry is actually half written – if I manage to finish it I’ll put that up, as it offers a bit more discursive meat than poor LeAnn.)

Meanwhile, this is an excellent opportunity to go check out the masses of new recent posts on Marcello and Lena’s Then Play Long blog, which has surged back into activity with some superb writing on the LPs of 1989.

See you all soon! Tom.

Jun 15

LEANN RIMES – “Can’t Fight The Moonlight”

Popular32 comments • 2,132 views

#882, 24th November 2000

leannrimes “Same Old Brand New You” showed that the Max Martin style could be achieved on the cheap – but what happened if you went in the other direction? Plasticky British pop wasn’t the only strain under pressure from the Swedes – America’s pop establishment, typified by ballad queen Diane Warren, also needed to react. “Can’t Fight The Moonlight”, co-written by Warren, is one attempt. It’s an expansive meeting of styles – a sweeping film soundtrack number, produced with thumping, Martin-esque drama. Just in case that wasn’t big enough, the producer is Trevor Horn, obviously no stranger to maximalist visions for pop. Somewhere in this colossal landscape is LeAnn Rimes, a young country-to-pop crossover act who seemed more comfortable at the faith and flag end of her original genre.

Jun 15

A1 – “Same Old Brand New You”

Popular20 comments • 1,857 views

#881, 18th November 2000

a1sameold A1’s “Take On Me” was a needless re-spray of the prior generation’s classic pop. Now their magpie tendency turns to their own times. After Billie’s “Day And Night”, this is the year’s second I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Cheiron number one, a studied and whole-hearted application of the uptempo Swedish style to an English boyband. “Same Old Brand New You” makes no secret of the moves it’s learned from its sources, and adds only the lightest of new twists in the form of a body-rockin’ electro breakdown.

Jun 15

WESTLIFE – “My Love”

Popular21 comments • 1,633 views

#880, 11th November 2000

westlife mylove “My Love” is Westlife in their pomp – a seventh straight number one, leaving records trailing. They were as popular as they’d ever been, which is to say, not as popular as you might think: a steady fanbase of a hundred thousand or so first week fans, but nothing in the way of crossover. Still, they sounded monolithic enough. “My Love” starts intriguingly hesitant, as if it wants to be their “Knowing Me Knowing You” – “I’m all alone, the rooms are getting smaller” (Imagine Westlife, trapped in a malfunctioning TARDIS.) Of course, that doesn’t last, and the windswept chorus of “My Love” – a de facto title track for their second album, Coast To Coast – is them at their most banner-waving. It’s confident and assured, big-chested – they know what they’re about by now, these boys. Cheiron – the jobbing end of Cheiron – are back too. A memo is sent out to stakeholders: the Westlife enterprise has considered the possibility of changing its business model for the second record, and politely rejected the proposal.

Jun 15

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

Popular48 comments • 2,388 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.

May 15

STEPS – “Stomp”

Popular37 comments • 2,221 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.

May 15

U2 – “Beautiful Day”

Popular148 comments • 4,868 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.