Popular

14
Sep 17

EMINEM – “Without Me”

Popular39 comments • 2,463 views

#928, 1st June 2002

without me Eminem produced “Without Me” himself, and the sound of this song is the best thing about it, a thick, soupy, snaky bassline and a brutally four-square beat. Ironic that this is the record where he calls out Moby – “nobody listens to techno!” – as the goonish thunk of “Without Me” is the most robotic version of Marshall Mathers yet. And the least funky, not coincidentally. It’s a production stripped back to make more space for Eminem’s tongue-twisting insults, and to be as legible as possible to the army of new, white hip-hop fans he’s presuming are out there, waiting out a turgid pop landscape until their rascal prince returns.

31
Aug 17

LIBERTY X – “Just A Little”

Popular12 comments • 1,499 views

#927, 25th May 2002

liberty x The remarkable speed with which their public turned on Hear’Say left things open for readymade rivals to add a twist to the story, and Liberty X – a band of Popstars runners-up – stepped up. Their angle was obvious – you, the discerning pop connoisseur, would show yourself a better judge of star potential than “Nasty Nigel” et al, rewarding the group with the real chemistry and talent. Hear’Say had been so popular they quickly became embarrassing: Liberty X would be reality TV pop done right.

This position was greatly helped by “Just A Little”, which really was a lesson in how to build a good pop single for a lashed-together group. It did two things that winners’ singles tended to botch. It sounded like its writers had bothered to listen to music from the last few years, and the group was blessedly unable to take the dire metatextual route of singing about their gratitude for winning.

25
Jul 17

RONAN KEATING – “If Tomorrow Never Comes”

Popular13 comments • 1,670 views

#926, 18th May 2002

ronan tomorrow I have been playing a lot more country music than usual lately, thanks to recommendations by wise friends of foundational albums. It seems to me that listening to country is, inescapably, listening to tradition. Country artists emerge within a tradition and while they may modernise, criticise, expand, revive, reinvent or inherit that tradition, they do not reject it. Roberto Calasso, the Italian philosopher of tradition and ritual, was talking about Vedic seers and the Catholic Church rather than Garth Brooks when he waxed lyrical about how tradition confers a gauze of quasi-mystical legitimacy on individuals and institutions, but the point applies just as well.

Calasso is no idiot – a conservative via pessimism rather than conviction, he knows full well that legitimacy and tradition are just what happens when enough people have chosen to forget past thefts and usurpations. Country music isn’t really more authentic or sincere than all the other kinds, but the investment in tradition gives it an aura of sincerity, of straight-talking honest-truthing God-fearing realness, whose aesthetics and effects are visible enough even if the aura itself is often flimsy. (Calasso understands that the gauze of legitimacy is, by its nature, quite easily shredded – he just thinks that what happens after tends to be worse. What he makes of former Boyzone singer Ronan Keating is unknown, but may be guessed at.)

What makes country music great is that this aura is itself a gateway to expression and tonal play – once the tiresome question of “do they mean it, man?” is taken off the table, the music is opened up more to camp, schmaltz, vulgarity, corn, lust, metaphysical awe and dread, and yes, honest attempts to couple with thorny adult problems and emotions, of which, whether I actually like it or not, “If Tomorrow Never Comes” is one.

18
Jul 17

HOLLY VALANCE – “Kiss Kiss”

Popular16 comments • 1,792 views

#925, 11th May 2002

valance “Freak Like Me” is a rare case where hit covers and mutations keep building on the foundations of a song, finding new things in it. At this point in pop, the opposite was more often true. “Kiss Kiss” is a good single – in the context of the charts, its dipping and rolling Turkish rhythms are delightfully fresh, a showy flourish across a grey backdrop. But hearing the singles it was based on – Tarkan’s “Simarik” and Stella Soleil’s remake of it as “Kiss Kiss” – lets you hear possibilities this version closes down.

10
Jul 17

SUGABABES – “Freak Like Me”

Popular32 comments • 3,520 views

#924, 4th May 2002

sugafreak At The Disco

A scene from Phonogram III: The Immaterial Girl, by Gillen, McKelvie and Wilson, published in 2015. It’s the early 00s, at a disco somewhere in the south of England. A group of people who love music so much it’s become their life and the tools of their craft – magic in the comic’s world; writing, DJing and blogging in ours – have been brought together to scheme and to dance. One of them is Seth Bingo, a skinny guy in a T-Shirt saying “Mutya Keisha Siobhan”. The final name is crossed out, with “Heidi” scrawled underneath. Bingo, affected but handsome in a gaunt sort of way, is talking to another thin white man, a morose husk of a creature called Indie Dave. “What is your take – “ Bingo asks – “on the Babes Of Suga?”.

“My real take?” asks Dave, “Or my ironic one?”. And so Seth Bingo lays him out with an uppercut, the art exploding in colour around the punch.

12
Feb 17

OASIS – “The Hindu Times”

Popular65 comments • 6,261 views

#923, 27th April 2002

oasishindu The biggest band in Britain grinds on, and as usual when an Oasis single toils its way by, their own past is the best stick to beat them with. In 1994, Oasis’ approach – putting great chunks of rock’s past in a smelter and using noise, hooks and force of will to forge something fresh from it – was a thrill. For all Noel’s occasional trolling in interviews, what Oasis represented an alternative and challenge to wasn’t pop. Instead they rebuked rock as it stood in the early 90s, only sometimes unfairly. British indie, first of all, the wan inbred descendent of punk rock, for its habit of simply aping the past, not trying to match it. Shoegaze and post-rock, for their refusal of the possibilities of a mass audience. Grunge rock, for finding that audience and turning away from it with a shudder. And most of all, the classic rock establishment, packing arenas and scooping BRIT awards by offering the same tired product, year upon year.

19
Jan 17

GARETH GATES – “Unchained Melody”

Popular27 comments • 2,468 views

#922, 30th March 2002

unchainedgates Making sense of Simon Cowell requires negotiating a maze of banalities – a host of things which are, like judges’ verdicts on a reality show, obvious and lacking insight, but nonetheless true. For instance, saying “Simon Cowell cares about money more than music” is a lazy criticism, but it’s also surely right. Saying “Whoever wins, Cowell is the real winner” is a similar no-shit-Sherlock conclusion, and equally hard to deny.

If we turn over these obvious stones, is there anything wriggling underneath? Maybe there is. Take Simon Cowell’s taste in music. It’s not that he doesn’t like music – he has a set of preferences. It’s more that once he became a reality impresario, the exact contours of his taste became a source of competitive advantage. Some of the reality TV judge’s power is unpredictability – anything that compromises the unpredictability, like a known aesthetic, is a weakness.

16
Jan 17

WILL YOUNG – “Anything Is Possible” / “Evergreen”

Popular36 comments • 2,422 views

#921, 9th March 2002

willyoung It was not immediately obvious that everything had changed. I was at an engagement party, and was introduced as a music fan to someone, and they asked me a question: “Will or Gareth?”. I didn’t really get what they were talking about. Pop Idol, of course. Oh, I haven’t been watching it. “You haven’t?” It seemed bizarre to them, that someone into pop music wouldn’t have felt the show was important. They were right.

There is an economic maxim called Goodhart’s Law: when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Reality TV pop was the application of this to the charts. Being number one was the measure, already a shakily symbolic one, of popularity and fame. To be a pop idol meant having massive pop hits. And so the winner of Pop Idol would have the biggest hits anyone could. But what actually happened was the colonisation of the charts by TV, for several weeks a year. It became an annual event, like the flooding of the Nile delta. Instead of proving that Will or Gareth or Darius or anyone else could compete with the best, it made the weakness of the charts as a metric of best-ness – or anything else – absurdly obvious.

4
Jan 17

WESTLIFE – “World Of Our Own”

Popular25 comments • 1,648 views

#921, 2nd March 2002

westlifewoto It’s taken them until their 10th number one, but Westlife finally bring us an original uptempo song. Within the band’s corpus “World Of Our Own” is a break from the norm, with half-hearted ‘party’ noises under the intro acting as cues for the lads to rise up from the stools and shake a tailfeather. On anyone else’s terms it’s reliable workhorses Steve Mac and Wayne Hector trying to write a Gregg Alexander song. The string of emphases on the bridge – “Took! For! Granted!” – feels particularly like a stab at New Radicals style euphoric lift-off, but Westlife is not a rollercoaster. It’s barely even a teacup ride. The chorus bumps repetitively along, its sing-song melody irritating before the first pass is even through. And the scenario is a standard Westlife one – our hero has strayed but regrets it and realises real happiness lies with the comforts of home. A decent metaphor for this mildest of experimental moves, then, which ends with the inevitable – and reassuring – key change.

11
Nov 16

ENRIQUE IGLESIAS – “Hero”

Popular24 comments • 2,593 views

#919, 2nd February 2002

enriquehero In Britain it was another ballad, another global import megahit, arriving here with the spontaneity of a powerpoint build. But in America it was jetsam, a fragment of wreckage to cling to in a time of fear. Within days of the World Trade Centre falling, “Hero” had been remixed to incorporate found audio from 9/11, a collage of sobbing witnesses, panicked rescuers, and the drained sincerity of politicians interrupting Enrique Iglesias’ every line.

It’s a remarkable thing to listen to, pop snatched up into history, pushed beyond the limit of what it can accommodate. The sentiment of the song – Enrique as hero as lover – shifts into Enrique as firefighter, as cop, and as anyone desperately trying to help and to reassure. But the juxtaposition of pop and tragedy, grotesque as it is, works, because Iglesias himself is so lachrymose: his stagey chokes and moans and trembling lips mix into place smoothly alongside the real agony caught on tape. “I just wanna hold you… I just wanna hold you…” Iglesias murmurs at the end, exhausted and bereft. Romance turns into terror sex.