POP-EYE 24/2/02

‘This,’ says Isabel, ‘Is such a timewarp.’ She’s talking about Afroman‘s ‘Crazy Rap’ (UK readers should retitle it ‘Wacky Rap’ to get the right idea) but it also applies to the dispiriting experience of actually bothering to listen to the bottom half of the UK Top 40. Who is still buying Afroman? Who is not yet sick of Goldtrix? Who, in God’s name, considered it a good idea to go into record shops and buy enough copies of ‘Handbags And Gladrags’ to keep it clinging to the charts like an unpleasant stain for what is surely the five thousandth week in succession?

Conventional industry wisdom says the charts are too fast — hardly any singles climb to No.1 any more, the business is all sewn up, blink and you miss five new entries and a number one. Pop-Eye has this to say: ‘Bollocks.’ The chart in fact is too slow — it’s little short of a disgrace that in the year 2002 we haven’t yet perfected mechanisms for removing unwanted Stereophonics tracks from the Top 40 in under a month. What we have now, at best, is a chart of two halves — the elephants’ graveyard from 21-40 and a firework display in the top half. So it proves this week as the record industry finally wakes from hibernation and remembers that popkind cannot live on Inglesias alone (indeed that four weeks of top-spot Inglesias far exceeds the BMA’s recommended yearly limit). In fact the record industry rather overdoes it: all this week’s four highest new entries could have been Number One any other week. Two of those even should have been.

Much like No Doubt, whose moment in the Pop-Eye limelight was cruelly denied by reason of my being too hungover and lazy to write the column. So it was that ‘Hey Baby’ was dismissed by Pete last week, but constant plays since have confirmed my initial suspicions — this is a terrific single. As is often the way with terrific singles it has stupid bits and there’s no denying that Gwen Stefani gets a bit high-handed with the English language on the pre-chorus. But the bumping dancehall rhythm wins through and then some. This is No Doubt’s equivalent of Blur’s ‘Girls And Boys’ — a dance-craze ripoff which even they may have considered a cynical novelty, but which ends up sounding like the best record of their career.

(While we’re at it, DB Boulevard‘s ‘Point Of View’ is the prettiest, twinkliest dance-pop hit since I-don’t-know-when, too!)

Onto the actual new entries: if I was Alanis Morrissette I’d want to wash my hands of the new single too. Alas her fingerprints are all over ‘Hands Clean’ — the usual chunka-chunka drum loop, the usual polysyllabic cawing. The lyrics come off at first like an almighty Diva-diss from Ms.Moz but by the end of the song we’re in far creepier territory as Alanis sings the part of an industry sexual predator, with heavy paedophiliac overtones (wonder what the crossover market is between this and ‘Moi’Lolita’). But I only know that cos I read her interview in Q when I was bored on the bus — on the radio Alanis’ garbling wrestles any sense away from the listener, and it’s quiet-loud business as bloody usual.

The downside of Freaky Trigger’s newfound bootleg-mania is that I’m now getting impatient with new tracks – Princess Superstar? Yeah, it’s fun…but just wait for the bootlegs! Get rid of that horn track and whack some Flock of Seagulls under it! Nice one! (I know other Pop-Eye writers are mad keen for Princess S, but for me the loop wears me down after a verse or two while the rap only really takes off when Superstar gets to play off against straight-laced Dad. It got one measly star in Smash Hits, though, clearly a magazine concerned not to lead its target market into boyfriend/shower temptation).

‘After five years of trying, British rock band A finally crack the Top 40…’ Five years??! Did you see the bloke on CD:UK? FIFTY years more like. ‘Give us some skin!’ he yells, which is absolutely the last thing he needs. (Has he thought of botox?). Mr. A makes Fred Durst look like a vigorous young thing, but even if he’s more Nu-Meldrew than nu-metal it’s hard to deny that right now singles-buyers are going mad for anything rock-ish. Pop-Eye is duty bound to reflect that, so if you’re a reader who actually likes this stuff and you fancy taking a crack at the column then be our guest. Not that I dislike ‘Nothing’ — it’s shouty and noisy and, goodness, is that the time?

Mis-Teeq‘s steelband garage on ‘B With Me’ (complete with skanky-slinky horn line) is this week’s best new entry. It has pretty much everything you’d want from a pop-garage hit: a chewy bassline, shout-outs (including ‘Hookline!’), a tight chorus and even a plot! Garage girl lusts after office boy in his ‘pinstripe suit’ but he’s hooked up and so is she though that don’t stop her dreaming. In a less logjammed week we’d be popping the Cristal (or downing the Chardonnay in Emma’s case) to celebrate a fantastic number one.

As it is they have to settle for fifth place, behind R.Kelly, who knocks out a film tie-in ballad the way only ginormous American popstars can. British and Irish ballads tend to be humble things, seeking your love in oily fashion, and we obviously love them that way, as Westlife‘s previous nine number ones generally prove. But the Americans know how to do the big numbers properly, and like ‘Hero’, ‘The World’s Greatest’ is an Enterprise carrier of a ballad: glistening with producer firepower, possessed of awesome global reach, overwhelmingly massive and unrivalled in its capacity to cause vague resentment even among its supposed pop allies.

To further drag out Pete’s military metaphors of last week, Kylie‘s ‘In Your Eyes’ can’t make much of a dent on Inglesias, which is why we need to follow up his dislodging this week with Will Young, just to make sure (‘We had to destroy the charts in order to save them, Sir.’). But plucky Kylie at least beats out smuggo Kelly, cunningly sticking the words ‘Spinning Around’ into her song to remind us of one of her other hits, and equally cunningly continuing with the polished disco loveliness (and the, um, well-put-together videos) that made us pop doubters love her last time out.

A tenth number one for Westlife, even if it is toppling Enrique from No.1, wouldn’t generally be cause for Pop-Eye celebration. But this is slightly different. The pop press have been hailing ‘World Of Our Own’ as Westlife’s first ever uptempo single, and granted I’d love to have forgotten ‘Uptown Girl’ too. What it actually is, is Westlife’s first-ever bearable single. Oh, sure, it’s only as good as the last record by, say, Emma Bunton — jogalong and joyless – but next to ‘Flying Without Wings’ or — mercy! — ‘Queen Of My Heart’, it’s an oasis. But for us parched pop pioneers it may well prove a mirage: next week is going to see the record for fastest-selling UK single ever broken by a ballad so dead-lettuce limp that Westlife turned it down. You can listen in if you like: I shall be down the pub.