POP-EYE 13/01/02

Twelth night has come and gone, but the second chart of the year still finds pop suffering seasonal after-effects. Most of the big stars, and all of those lazy indie types, are still sleeping off their over-indulgences, and so this week is the Week Of Dance. Because of course the chart needs new entries at this time of year – as a horrified and hungover nation wakes up to the fact that Gordon Haskell and his ilk are still in the Top 40, and must be kicked out as soon as is humanly possible.

But what on earth is there to buy? The answer of course is all the trance records that had them going on the dancefloors at New Years, but couldn’t get a look in before now because of Christmasitis taking hold of the charts. This year however even they have not been enough and at the bottom of the charts the people at Gallup have had to resort blatantly to making records up. DJ Garry? John Cutler feat. E-Man? The PSYCHEDELIC WALTONS?? I think not! Cherry on the fictional cake, and the one that really gives the game away, is the re-entry of “You Rock My World” by Michael Jackson at No.34 – come on, do you honestly expect us to believe that?

So on into the real Top 20, and who should be back in the charts but Nelly Furtado? Nelly has penned what is on paper quite a Freaky Trigger-friendly single, since it concerns Ms. F. giving the lyrical finger to a friend of hers who, obsessed by his underground cred, now blanks her cos her music gets airplay. Unfortunately, i) based on this characterless bit of warble her and her mate will soon be on speaking terms again, and ii) the single is called “Shit On The Radio”. No pop writer could resist that kind of open goal, barring the Dalai Lama arriving at Smash Hits. “Nelly, your new single is -koffkoff – shit on the radio?” “Yes” “HA HA HA HA HA”.

With the most new entries of any Pop-Eye ever to deal with it’s gratifying to dismiss a couple of them out of hand. I can’t remember anything about Goldtrix or Mark Pichiotti pres. Basstoy feat. Dana. The latter does present the question of who actually made the record. The pop headmaster summons the three suspects to his study. “Come on now, which of you was responsible for this mediocre house spacefiller? Pichiotti?” “Sir, it wasn’t me, I was just presenting Basstoy!” “Well, Basstoy?” “Sir sir it featured Dana too” “Dana hasn’t had a hit since 1976! Are you trying to be funny?” (A question no doubt on your lips dear reader. We move swiftly on.)

Good to see Jay-Z doing well, even if it is the most annoying track on his album. Girls girls girls girls girls he does a-DAW-uh. (As some ILM poster said, “He doesn’t like girls that much.”) What you can say about it is that it’s very funny for a couple of listens. Or what you could say about it, rather, since the ever-eager censor has turned the record into the usual game of hip-hop Blankety Blank. What does the Jigga Man do with all these girls? It might be a quiet night in with Double Acrostic for all the single version tells you.

The same is probably true of “Bad Intentions” by Dr Dre feat. Knoc-turn’al (The standard of new rappers’ names is now so pitiful it seems kindest not to even joke about it.) but I can’t remember, having been hypnotised by its sinuous flute. All flutes in pop criticism are “sinuous”, obviously. But this one sounded especially pleasant, as it wound around some – actually rather uncompelling – Dre beats. He’s trying some new tricks with the icing, but the cake is a bit stale.

The first of two confessions: I am starting to like the Sophie Ellis-Bextor record. Really quite a lot. It’s the “I know I know I know” hook that does it, how it starts off sung and ends up conversation – I always fall for that sort of thing. The second of two confessions: I am responsible for DJ Aligator Project, who would fit happily into the ‘made-up’ category were it not for the fact that he’s at No.5 in the charts and shows every sign of following his Euro-comrade Otzi into the thick heads of post-pub Britain. Responsible? Yes. Well OK, I knew about his menace, put it that way. I got sent the single to review a year ago and let it off with an average write-up. Pity? It was pity that stayed my hand: the poor guy didn’t even know how to spell Alligator. Mind you back then the song was only called “The Whistle Song”. Now it’s called “The Whistle Song (Blow My Whistle Bitch)”. This is not a demographic which rewards subtleties. (I also gave it an OK review because it made me dance harder than the other barrel-scrapings, eg Sonique, I’d been sent, and I stand by that, just about.)

Lange comes from Oxford – represent! – so I was well-disposed to him for a good half-minute: “Drifting Away” has one foot in an Oakenfold mix CD and one foot in some Ibiza Chill nightmare. No.9 seems too high. At least Puretone are trying – Eartha Kitt vocals, drill’n’bass snare rushes, huge cushiony whoomphs of bass, accidentally (yeah right) funny words based – see, I can do this too – on the base/bass joke Public Enemy were trotting out years back. “Addicted to Bass” – geddit? – is trying a bit too hard though and ends up in that wasteland where genre-pulping dancefloor wonders suddenly end up sounding like Apollo 440.

Which leaves the two best singles of the week – both records it feels a bit of a cheat calling ‘best’ because we probably know them already. So Solid Crew put out “Haters” from an album where almost anything could be a single, but “Haters” sets out the band’s stall pretty clearly. No-one likes us, we do care. (On the inner sleeve of the CD the haters are repeatedly thanked – frankly they should get together and ask for some of the royalties). The song is a terrific album-opener, that keyboard-riff nagging you into either backing or sacking the group, and the siege-state they surround themselves with. On CD:UK they got a BMX on stage, which lightened things up.

“Haters” is also the SSC album track which features group villain Skat-D (he of the 15-year old’s jaw breaking) most prominently, and he sounds deeply and disturbingly unpleasant, a nasty wheedling MC, a garage Gollum. “Why you watchin’ me? Why you clockin’ me? Why you hatin’ me?” he gulps. These are difficult questions, and only the third one is easy to answer. The gang-mentality, the sense of entitlement, the violent self-righteousness – these are what make So Solid Crew’s music electric and what keep the band together, and of course these are also what mean that none of them will admit it when a member crosses lines. So even when listeners aren’t getting off on those things explicitly, they are getting off on them because without them the music wouldn’t exist. You’re either with them or against them: as above, so below.

On that sombre note, on to Aaliyah – whose coverage this week has been notable for its generally not coming black-clad. A first, posthumous No.1 hit – and on all the pop programmes I’ve seen, hardly a mention of that tricky ‘posthumous’ bit. “Our CD:UK No.1 award goes to Aaliyah!” yelled Cat Deeley on Saturday morning, as if Aaliyah might pop up to collect it then and there. Mark Goodier on the Top 40 rundown mentioned her death, but hurriedly, not wanting to break up the pop party. This annoyed me slightly. For one thing it’ll look a bit odd if when the next and final single comes out they turn on the waterworks. For another thing I can’t see George Harrison getting the same breezy treatment next week.

“More Than A Woman” is an uptempo track, is the thing – stiff-limbed but memorable R&B which deserved its top spot in any circumstances (and the string intro is gorgeous, especially on the radio where it announces the single in a delightfully imperious way). It’s not as marvellous as “We Need A Resolution” or as sweet a send-off as Timbaland’s Aaliyah-voiced “I Am Music” would be, but it has a kick, and maybe that’s why the ambulance-siren fanfare’s been absent: dancing is often a better tribute.