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Saturday, November 29, 2003

The Cross-Europe Chart Challenge... of Death: SWITZERLAND
I think Shania Twain keeps a house in Switzerland, so that's a bit of a boon.

1. OVERGROUND - Schick Mir 'nen Engel. Imagine an alternate universe where One True Voice beat Girls Aloud (not too hard now lest you accidentally wish right-thinking pop fans into this horrifying hypothetical bizarro world) to Number One by doing a really, really atrocious cover of Real Life's Send Me An Angel. Well, that's happened in Switzerland. Apart from being rather minging, Overground have massacred this song. It has acoustic guitars in it for fuck's sake. Don't these people realise that if you're trying to turn a cheesy dance song into a ballad, you are DOING THINGS TOTALLY BACKWARDS? 0

2. BLACK EYED PEAS - Where Is The Love? No (further) comment. 0

3. ALEXANDER - Free Like The Wind. Actually sounds like it might be fitting bellowed from the top of a Swiss mountain. Not good though, I keep expecting the pan pipes from Wherever, Whenever to come into the mix. Life's a bit short to listen to this sort of soppy nonsense when I could be listening to Natalia for the 67th time instead. Gets a bonus point for the wolf noise. 3

4. BRITNEY SPEARS FEATURING MADONNA - Me Against The Music. What I said before. 8

5. DIDO - White Flag. As above. 7

6. JEANETTE - Rockin' On Heaven's Floor. Terrible pun, which is always good. Terrible song, though. Starts out sounding a bit like one of the rubbish tracks of the last Shania album as sung by someone who should still be in school, not having delusions of pop stardom. It continues in much the same fashion. 3

7. GLORIA ESTEFAN - Wrapped/Hoy. Mind boggles that Ms Estefan is still having hits somewhere, so good on her. Delicate acoustic sort of thing, fairly decent atmosphere, her voice still sounds good, but really, not very memorable. It might be better given a thumping mix, doubtlessly already done. I like how the piano comes in, though, it gets a little more ornate and perky a minute in, too. 6.

8. BEYONCE - Baby Boy. Basically, without the killer sample of Crazy In Love, Beyonce doesn't seem to have a point. This song is really not very good, though I'm genuinely curious as to why people feel differently. Is it Sean Paul? Because he has a solo album, you know, you don't NEED to buy this sort of pap to let him know you love his work. 2

9. PINK - Trouble. I've come around to this a bit. I still think the chorus either lacks imagination or sacrifices actual creativity for some kind of pop-punk energy, but the verses are good stuff, and that bridge is pure sunshine. 8 (y'all)

10. 50 CENT - P.I.M.P. What I said about Beyonce, but substitute In Da Club and, I dunno, Eminem for Crazy In Love and Sean Paul respectively. 0

37 out of 100. Dear me. Outkast aren't even in the top 30 here. Their loss, maybe that would be a better indicator of which chart is the best, how high ace Outkast singles get. They're #1 in Norway I think.
# 7:41 AM []
NATALIA - I've Only Begun To Fight
Disco! Disco! Disco! Disco! This is absolutely damn perfect, from the opening drum intro, those magnificent strings, the fact that it features the word "victress", the crisp beats underneath that soaring chorus, a middle-eight to die for.. ooh and the fact that you think it might be a bit lesbian after the first few lines. "I'm gonna kiss every doubt from your lips" she belts out like a total pop diva, there's the tease of a key change, a cute extended metaphor and basically it's a totally addictive and relentless Euro-disco assault. This is a Stonking Pop HitTM. If it's not already a massive hit in your part of the world, expect it imminently.
# 6:02 AM []

Friday, November 28, 2003

The Cross Europe Chart Challenge... of Death: ITALY
I was going to do Russia next, but all those foreign characters scared my browser into a corner. So, Italy. They do disco-pop quite well there, I've heard. Further than Moony's Dove I can't think of much in the way of recent Italian pop hits.

1. AVENTURA - Obsession. Has a mobile phone ringing at the start, male voice in the verses, female in the chorus. Possible spanish guitar buried underneath busy percussion, always a good idea. Not very catchy, though. 3

2. DIDO - White Flag. Still inoffensive, breezy and pleasant. 7

3. BRITNEY SPEARS FEATURING MADONNA - Me Against The Music. The more people hate on this, the more I like it. I still think it could have been much, much better, but still. 8

4. BLACK EYED PEAS - Where Is The Love? Don't laugh, it's probably still in your top 10 as well. 0

5. ELISA - Broken. This may or may not be some kind of European Dido-Michelle Branch hybrid, that sort of searching ballad, but on guitar not keys. Sounds like it's going to take off and be great just before the chorus, but it's firmly grounded. 4

6. BLUE - Guilty. Must be a law that there has to be a shit ballad in every charts. 1

7. NEK - Almeno Stavolta. The second word of this song rhymes with Travolta. Significant. I can sing Garbage's Soldier Through This over the piano, which is no bad thing. Threatens briefly to lift the pulse when the drums kick in, but not really. 5

8. OUTKAST - Hey Ya. I fear that this song being on every chart in the world is going to inflate the scores of everyone, but it remains more fun than a date with Siobhan Donaghy. 10

9. KYLIE MINOGUE - Slow. Doesn't make me go "yay" in the same way as her greats, but it's still enough of a curve-ball to applaud. 8

10. EIFFEL 65 - Una Notte e Forse Mai Pia. I'm sorry, I still haven't forgiven them for Blue, and even if this song were 50 times as good as Hey Ya they wouldn't deserve it. Needless to say, it's not. Lightly vocodered wibble vocals are OK. 1

A bit wet, really. Little in the way of excitement or fun. 47 out of 100, most of it coming from the known rather than the unknown.
# 11:20 PM []
The Cross-Europe Chart Challenge... of Death!
Being as I am quite aware how ridiculous it might seem for someone not from England to religiously follow the UK Charts, I've decided to spread my wings a bit and begin listening to other charts.

What I shall do is, a few times a week, listen to the top 10 in a particular country, and assign the country a score based on its ten finest. Once I've done this a few times for every country on the list, it shall become apparent which country has the bestest chart ever, I'll have heard lots of new pop music, crashed Soulseek five jillion times and found a new scene to watch from afar, pathetically wishing I could join in! Huzzah! All while proving absolutely nothing in reality.

* by "exciting" of course I mean "not exciting".


Finland is where HIM come from, and Love Metal is a really great record. I anticipate catchy pop metal and ridiculous dance pop in equal measure. Since these two genres are great, Finland should do well. Unless all their songs sound like Bomfunk MCs or Darude, in which case they will probably suck.

1. THE RASMUS - First Day Of My Life
Ooh, this is starts out really intense, a bit like that first Linkin Park one, then the singer comes in and you think it'll be like that other Linkin Park one, but it turns out to be a rather top Scando-rock-pop tune. I've got a soft spot for this sort of thing. I want to hear more, actually. 9

2. GIMMEL - Sydan Plis Sarkekaa
Oh my god, great keyboard/guitar riff combo! Solid popping base, and bass, like the missing link between new wave and Scandinavian pop. Sounds summery and has whoas in it, glad I don't understand a word of it because that might break the spell. Those As should have dots on them but Blogger keeps eating them. Boo. Good song, though.9

3. CMX - Melankolia
More brooding guitars, and when the singer started I thought he was going to intone a mantra or something. Pretty colourless, really, though signs of life in the chorus. 3

4. ANNA ERIKSSON - Kaikista Kasvoista
Bit of a diva. I see Eurovision in her future. 6

5. DIDO - White Flag
As Dido songs go, this is a good one. I like it, and I'm not sorry. 7

6. CELINE DION - Tout L'or Des Hommes
No fucking way am I going to even bother with this, it's going to be horrible. 0

7. OUTKAST - Hey Ya
If you need an explanation of why this is great, perhaps reading about modern pop music is not really your thing. 10

8. PIKKU G - Me Olaan Nuoriso
Awesome! Sounds like a Eurovision entry, swings like rap, and soothes like a choir. The gospel is Finnish rap cheese! 9

9. ZEN CAFE - Piha Ilman Sadettajaa
Not bad, pleasantly chugging little rock thing, but doesn't really have a good chorus. 6

10. BEATS AND STYLES - Dynamite
Goddamnit, I shouldn't have mentioned Bomfunk MCs. He says he rocks the mic right, but he doesn't. 2

Actually quite a decent variety of songs, some nice surprises and had Outkast in it. 61 points out of 100.
# 7:39 AM []
Britney Spears - I Got That (Boom Boom)
God, I never thought she'd make a song worse than I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman, but, much like her reputed dating of Fred Durst, she clearly went and did it, possibly to win a bet of some sort.

It's got two dimwits called the Ying Yang Twins on it. Perhaps I'm deficient in some way because I have no idea who they are, but last time I checked, Britney Spears sang on the greatest pop single of the last 10 years and the YY Twins did not, so what business they have helping Britters make magnificent pop is not entirely clear.

What I noted about Missy Elliot was that on her new album she never risked being subservient to her collaborators. Britney sings pop music well, she doesn't need to surround herself with anyone to make her sound good, she just needs to use the breathy part of her range and nothing can go wrong. Unless Dido writes the lyrics, obviously. If she really wants to be taken seriously as someone who can do hip-hop flavoured songs, it's cause for concern that she thinks so little of her own abilities that she feels the need to prop herself up with such flimsy supports.

"This is for those Southern boys out there.", she says 47 seconds in before the Worst Musical Instrument In The World kicks in to give it the necessary mood. And prior to this, all that's been on the track is some beats and a whole lot of verbal effluent out of the mouths of her collaborators.

You can sing Boom Boom Boom by the Outhere Brothers over part of this, I'm A Slave 4 U over another and render it immeasurably better. And Britney, who is supposed to be the focal point of her own fucking song, people, doesn't appear for a whole damn minute, instead letting the Ying Yang Twits (that was a typo, but I'm going to go with it) be total hunguses over the end of the song, while she shuts up and lets them track their dirty feet all over her carpetalbum.

The only concession she should have made to the Southern boys would have been to offer to show them her boobs in return for them fucking off out of the studio.
# 1:43 AM []
Kylie Minogue - Slo Motion
Drop whatever you're doing now. Get on your preferred file sharing application and DOWNLOAD THIS! Stealing is wrong, but putting this track out as a limited edition bonus track only available in some parts of the world while leaving utter, utter dross like After Dark on the Body Language LP is a crime that makes illegally downloading and listening to Slo Motion look petty and insignificant.

Perhaps the fact that the song is similarly titled to bizarre Number One work of genius Slow worked against it, and stupid people that bought the album would assume it was some kind of shit remix bonus track rather than a delicious piece of uber-pop goodness. This is not a very satisfying theory, but quite frankly in the face of this entirely baffling piece of injustice screwing thousands of innocent pop fans out of this song, nothing makes sense.

Reaons why this song is ace:

1. Looooooooo! At least that sounds like what she's singing, I'm not entirely sure. Is she looking for lav in all the wrong places?
2. Shuddering, shimmering beats all over the chorus - forget the Neptunes, people, there actually is another template for jerky drum sounds in pop that doesn't require lame hip-hop aspirations.
3. Remember how it's those three gigantic THUD noises before the choruses in Baby One More Time that made it so enormously explosive? Well, the final chorus has these great chunky synth string stabs that do exactly the same thing. Though not quite as probing. This is slinky, see.
4. It's got personal pronoun progression. First time it's "I'm living in slow motion", then it's "We're living in slow motion". I like that. Oh, and the line "Skin on my skin, I think it's love I've fallen into" is great.
5. The backing vocals where Kylie sings "here". They go something like this: "motion! open! spoken! ooh. aah! into! hee-aaaar! VOCODERED BIT!".

It actually strikes me listening to this that the last track off Dannii Minogue's last album, It Won't Work Out, would have been a far better fit for big sister, as she does this sort of slow-burn, airy groove incredibly well.
# 1:22 AM []

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Blazin' Squad - Revolution
Ha. Now, let's assume that they're serious here. If they are, this is alarmingly terrible. Sampling T-Rex and cribbing the chorus is a great idea. What's not a good idea is singing the chorus of a rock song when you sound like a squad of choirboys (Prazin' Squad!) whose voices have only recently broken, and then going all street over the rest of it - "yo! turn this up!", rhyming (unspectacularly) over a three second loop of the T-Rex riff.

Now let's assume that they're not being serious at all. It doesn't make the song any better, but occasionally when an atrocity is committed, sometimes you want to understand why. After all, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, are they not? Anyway, it's pretty funny if you stop to think about it. The lyrics read as if you got a blissfully nostalgic, grizzled 60-year old rock fan to explain to their grandson what "Children Of The Revolution" was about and how important it was (or something) and got them to write vaguely thematically-linked raps over it. Blazin' Squad, see, are down with the kids, and don't you forget it. Would that I could, boys.

I could have farted this out in 20 minutes using Reason. And probably done a better job of singing and rapping over it, too. "It seems to me what people see can easily be told/It seems to me that TV shows can easily get old.". Does that really need a comment?

"It's another banger." someone says at the start. Firstly, "banger"?. I think not. Secondly, "another"?
# 6:28 AM []
Amy Studt - Ladder In My Tights
One of the things that's simultaneously joyful and irritating about hunting high and low for pop gems is tracking down a real winner from an album that hasn't done well, particularly when the singles have been disappointing. It's great because you're hearing something great that's unspoilt by saturation airplay, but annoying because you'd like to hear the artist rewarded for making it, in the hope they might do a little more.

Such is the case here. Amy Studt's Misfit contained some great vowels (arrrrse indeed), but came across like Avril with less kinetics and fewer hooks. This song picks up that mood, but it's harder, stronger and cleverer.

Within the verses, Amy is like Katie Ka-boom, ready to self-combust and blow up the world - and it's all bit adorable. What's good though, is that any part of this song could have been the chorus. I can't get enough of strong pre-chorus action, this one has her alternately musing about using duct tape and C4 underneath pretty aahs before the chorus in all its bluster sweeps into place. The chorus has that delightful censored-fuck in it, and it manages to be anthemic where Misfit fell well short, and it wraps all the pieces together rather than just being a placeholder where the pro-awkward-girl sentiment that's so cloying goes just because nothing else fits.

Best of all, rather than sounding like Avril, her guitary choruses sound more like Shania Twain in big pop mode, particularly Waiter! Bring Me Water! and that's pretty damn great.

Sadly, her record company is putting out a cover of Sheryl Crow's All I Wanna Do as her next single. Pop's great, it's just that stupid people don't realise it, and that stupid people seem to be making all the moves.
# 3:27 AM []
Alex Parks - Mad World
The timing is simultaneously very good (though perhaps too late to capitalise on residual oh-THAT-song effect) and very bad (Gary Jules' version being a single in the UK soon), so it's not exactly obvious what the motive for this is. What is obvious is that, in all probability only familiar with the version off the Donnie Darko soundtrack, this song, in the hands of Alex Parks is similarly cast as an earnest, important-sounding lament in the moody singer-songwriter mode, which suits it well.

I didn't like Alex's first single, though her voice was somewhat redolent of Annie Lennox in her grand ballad mode - even though Annie in goth dominatrix mode circa Touch gets more love, that's no bad thing, and I've no shame in proclaiming Annie's Pavement Cracks as one of the finest singles of the year despite the fact that it'd have been much better with organic instrumentaion, a mistake Alex at least avoids. What was a bad thing was the song itself, which sounded like a really rubbish Pretenders cast-off. Here, the song at least is solid, but things just don't gel.

On the line "Went to school and I was very nervous/No-one knew me, no-one knew me", she sounds less distant than Jules did, and one could lazily assume that she might infuse that line with a bit more emotional oomph because of some identification. The rest of it doesn't sound as good.

One concession to the Tears For Fears original is that, unlike the Jules version, there are drums in the latter half of the song. They distract from the effect, and the first verse and chorus are noticeably stronger than the second as a result. Actually, in the second chorus, someone unfamiliar with the Jules arrangement that goes no further (TFF's version is longer) would assume there was an emotional climax looming - it never comes, and as such is pretty obsolete as a result. Going up against a much-loved song is hard enough when there's already one definitive version - here, there are two well-loved versions and the world doesn't really need another.

If it was your strangely-coiffed friend alone in their house unleashing that voice at their piano, you'd be transfixed. It's tried to be more than that, without adding anything. Sometimes more is more.
# 3:13 AM []

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Holly Valance - Roll Over
The key to this song's brilliance is in the crisp, loud drums. They sound like they were recorded in a massive, echoey building. Of course, it's all studio effects, but they frame the track beautifully, making everything around them sound massive and dense by association. While there are slight nods to electroclash, the massive, all-conquering beat places this far more in the realm of the late 80s rather than the early 80s that genre lovingly exhumes so well.

Ms Valance doesn't have the best voice, but she sounds great in this really claustrophobic environment. Actually, this is sort of the equivalent of saying that Holly does really well when she's cornered like a rat in a trap and she can sound a bit sus when she's given too much aural space in which to move (and that happens a few times on her album), but it helps that she's got a killer hook to match the backing here. There's a loping guitar-like noise in the background, some minimal but judiciously-placed bass burps overlaid, and in the pre-chorus they're joined by some curious sounds that sound straight out of the soundtrack to an early 90s console game. Think the sounds at the end of Shakedown's At Night to get a very vague idea.

Synths float breezily up and down over the chorus as Holly intones "I got you wrapped around my finger". Maybe a better voice would have tried to over-sing this, add too much emotion and ruin the song's internal logistics. Having no ideas above her station and no desire to be anything other than a good robot, Holly delivers with panache but without needless embellishment.
# 12:48 AM []
Missy Elliot featuring Monica and Beenie Man - Don't Be Cruel
I've often found Missy's songs with other people tend to fall a bit flat - though Ludacris usually delivers the goods - but here, Missy's collaborators don't spoil the mix at all.

Obviously, the chorus is a wholesale lift from Salt n Pepa, but it's so much more than that. Monica's verses are smooth, confident and engaging, and littered with musical references, before Missy's interpolation of Push It provides an interlude between them. This is done over a naggingly addictive, repetitive riff.

Beenie Man's contribution is at the end of the song, though he speaks over the beginning, and it works because he doesn't intrude everywhere on the track just because he's there - Missy seems to have tightened the reins on her collaborators judging by how little intrusion there is, even from serial airspace hog Jay Z (maybe he's realised that not everyone wants him to talk over every damn hook?) - he merely concentrates on nailing his bit, which he does with aplomb, and getting out of the way when it's over. One cook in the kitchen at a time, each preparing one course rather than sloshing everything together into a mess.

It closes with plonking piano and a stammering beat, before leading into an interlude about Missy being recognised in an adult shop. It's cute.

Missy has already gone some of the way towards making dancehall, a genre hostile (both in its aggressive sonics and occasionally very unfriendly lyrical content) to my ears, seem palatable, and her work on This Is Not A Test is solid, consistent and progressive while still bearing enough of the hallmarks of her previous work - and familiar touchstones - to bring the listener forward, rather than leaving them behind wishing she wouldn't move so fast.
# 12:28 AM []

Monday, November 24, 2003

Kelis - Marathon
Kelis belongs to that small subset of R&B performers who seem to nail every performance. Really now, how many singers can you imagine making a lyric like "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard and they're like, it's better than yours" and make it actually sound intriguing rather than the all-too-common substitute of being a cheap, ham-fisted attempt at sexy. She gets lots of other choice lines on Tasty, check out Trick Me Twice - and in common with her best ever song, Get Along With You, it's a pretty hip-hop ballad on which she pans absolutely every emotional nugget out of the song.

That's before you even get to the production. Marathon tinkles with music box, vague hi-hat with crack sounds and low-mixed pulses of bass. Her delivery is stung but defiant in the verses, and coloured with determination and backlit by strings like lightning flashes in the brief chorus.

It only lasts two verses and three choruses before it goes straight to the wordless outro, and it's just this that propels Marathon from great to fantastic, though, as Kelis wails and moans over the backing, and stripped of words, the backing that sounded a bit cold underneath the bruised lyrics sounds warm and inviting - as if Kelis has changed the sound behind her just by willing it to life. Then it ends with Kelis speaking: "OK, now swallow", and it's an absolutely perfect pop moment. Or rather, about 100 absolutely astonishing moments placed end-to-end.

She is the world's most underrated pop star, and the fact that many people think having Beyonce Knowles is sufficient is deeply sad.
# 9:37 PM []
Busted - She Wants To Be Me
Busted make me a bit peeved, to be honest. Aggressively thick pop songs are great. Barbed, punky hooks are fantastic. Boy bands can, and have, produced great songs. Yet Busted leave me utterly cold. It doesn't help that their only half-decent song was a ballad (the oddly affecting Sleeping With The Light On, don't laugh!) and was almost completely bollocksed up by a) the one with the eyebrows singing a solo verse and making it obvious why he'd not been allowed to emote on the band's first three singles, and b) the fact that they just seemed too young for the weight of the subject matter, though just young enough to get away with singing the pretty trite lyrics.

Crashed The Wedding ticked off all the necessary boxes on the great song checklist, but felt less than the sum of its parts. In part, what the listener brings to Busted affects the package more than with almost any other artist. Something about them rubs some people the wrong way and everything they do comes off as smug, with just a hint of real-worth aspiration and ambition, and Wedding's supposed great lines just bounced off this listener. It annoyed me just a shade that this band of twats were going to have a #1 album while the really really damn good Holly Valance record languished in the part of the charts you don't want to talk about.

She Wants To Be Me, though, is great. The opening guitar bluser gives but the slightest indication that either they or their co-writers know what makes power pop good and rather than being just half-hearted setups for unfunny punchline choruses, the verses' narrative is infused with sly, rather than smug, wit and charm.

The chorus itself is short, sharp and very catchy, and a bit tragicomic in the way the plaintive lyric is bolted to a genuinely funny delivery like the leadman in a comedy movie trying to get their co-star believing something outrageous or implausible, and it leads, after the first time, straight into the main riff, barely conceding a moment for the spell - this is a Busted record here - to break before piling it all on again.

The pay-off comes in the third verse, though, and it's well worth listening to this to hear it. It comes across as awkwardly cute, rather than funny which was probably the intention, but I've always been a believer in product over process.
# 1:58 AM []

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Atomic Kitten - Believer
Of all the pop acts on the planet, none are more unfairly maligned than Atomic Kitten. They've put out, in four years, exactly two bad singles (Eternal Flame and Love Doesn't Have To Hurt) and the rest have been generally very good. Only the Sugababes can boast a better classic to dud ratio.

The only-a-matter-of-time AK best of will be brilliant, but their albums have, amidst the terrible chaff, one or two brilliant gems hiding behind the singles. Their last one had Walking On Water and Baby, Don't You Hurt Me elevating it slightly above the filler-choked mean. This song is not yet a single, but it should be one - and a very good one it would be.

Is it a cheesy mid-tempo ballad? Of course it is, this is Atomic Kitten, who haven't put out a fast one since the brilliant KLF-sampling I Want Your Love. It's got a tinkly piano at the start, it gives way to a gentle strum accompanied by sweet, airy platitudes. But it's got a mind-meltingly addictive chorus bookended by two memory-resident lines. The first, "Your blood is my blood, I feel it in my heart" is echoed and bolstered by the second, "And your god is my god, your love has made me a believer.". It's a keen lyrical double-hook wedded to a great melodic hook and sung sweetly enough to make it maddeningly catchy and sing-along unchallenging.

The only thing that could make it better would be some strings in the break after the second chorus, with a bit of talking underneath it. The Kittens duly oblige and after the third run-through of the glorious refrain, the backing vocal bits of the chorus repeat until fade-out with more talking. It's one of two extraordinary tracks on the Kittens' album, the other being the two-minute piano weepie Someone Like Me, which due to its length and brilliance, is well worth a download.
# 5:49 PM []
Madonna - Nothing Fails (Jason Nevins Edit)
In its original form, Nothing Fails is the second best song on the American Life album - Easy Ride is the best, if you must know - but it clocks in at nearly five minutes and doesn't have verses and a chorus. It does have a lovely Like A Prayer-esque gospel swoon in the middle, and the standard radio edit does a pretty good job of making the song radio-friendly - it runs 3:47, breaks the first part of the song up with a chorus and generally keeps most of the good bits intact.

Jason Nevins' edit is another matter. It replaces the delicate acoustic guitar with clapping beats and an almost bluesy-approximation of the song. The slow, loping tempo of the chorus is swamped underneath a noisy, faster backing that sounds like a guitar sampled and sequenced to sound like a swarm of bees, and any subtlety is ruined.

This buzzing guitar doesn't do the "I'm not religious" part of the song any favours either. The part with the backing singers is excised, and Madonna's backing vocals, left to fend for themselves, go down without a fight amidst the messy backing. One thing Madonna knows is that sometimes you have to get the music out of the way of the voice to make a point. Shania Twain's When You Kiss Me, out at the moment, does this just right before its choruses, and the original version of Nothing Fails gained maximum impact from its gospel flourishes by removing unnecessary musical furnishing from around them. Jason Nevins' seeming disregard for subtlety evidently extends to vocal hooks, as he denies Madonna's voice the chance to shine at the song's climax, and the effect is numbing.

There's some vocal effects and a squelching noise at the end, but who'd bother? This version runs 13 seconds longer than the radio edit, contains less of the original song and barely any of the original charm.
# 7:25 AM []
WILL YOUNG - Your Game vs GUY SEBASTIAN - Angels Brought Me Here
Somewhere in the dark recesses of my memory, I recall reading a best-dressed list in a magazine, and liked the observation that really stylish people not only choose well, but when they're forced to wear something below their standard, they look uncomfortable and out of place. The less elegant can, however, look relaxed and uncomfortable in horrid attire.

Will Young won the first UK series of Pop Idol. His debut single was a cover of a Westlife album track, and it was pretty terrible. His subsequent singles weren't really much better. What intrigued me about Will, though, was that his vocal performances are good and they indicated, at least to me, that even Will didn't like the songs that much - and a recent interview proves that, yes, he thinks Evergreen was awful - but rather than his performances drooping to match the track, he sang properly but didn't sound suited to the banal surroundings, instead rising above them as if to say "I'm too good for this.".

Will Young's current single Leave Right Now is a cracker by any standards, belonging to the same family as the overwrought boy-band ballad, but it's light on the saccharine, restrained, emotive and done with a lot of care not to let the histrionics derail it. It's a great song, and a suitably great performance, proving that with the right material he can do good things. So I was keen to see if his new album had anything to offer. The first track is a cover, so the second is as good a place to inquire as any.

Your Game opens with some kind-of-funky squelches, before a string stab introduces the song proper. At this stage, fears it was about to turn into a 00s version of Jimmy Nail's Ain't No Doubt are allowed to briefly linger before Will begins singing to mercifully dispel them. He delivers the lyrics confidently, but without forcing a snarl to match the bitter sentiment. When he hits the chorus, he melds smoothly with an army of backing singers, lets loose a the singing equivalent of having a polite word with his lover: "Let's rectify it, you can't deny it, the way that you feel for me.". Then, hitting the final blow: " I can't waste my time playing your game." and it's believable. There's a bit of a break, and a repeat of the killer chorus. Naturally, after that the music cuts out behind Will and his backup singers for just a bit, leaving just handclaps as interludes between the polite but fairly hyperactive drumming. The tension is hinted at, built and then sustained like all the best pop dramas.

Guy Sebastian is the inaugural Australian Idol winner. He got through by using his genuine pipes to melismatically pile-drive through some songs I really detest (like Lionel Ritchie's Hello and Eric Clapton's Change The World... ick!) against competition that either did the same thing each week, or tried to do too many different things. He possessed a great visual hook - his afro - and there was no shortage of praise from those who knew him - people he'd sung with in church, kids he'd taught in his capacity as a music teacher and the like. His winning was a foregone conclusion weeks before the end of the show.

A great voice, yes, but the problems already are appearing. That being the songs available to him. The best non-European acts can hope for when their producers are seeking their chart-topper is either home-grown tosh, or cast-offs from Europe where the best pop songs are being written. Occasionally someone might get lucky (like Sophie Monk, who scored a top-shelf Rob Davis original for her 2002 debut), but the general statement that the songs placed before an Australian pop act not based in the UK will not be strong holds true. Angels Brought Me Here is not, in construction, a very strong song. I don't know who wrote it, and I'm eager to find out so I can make a note to never listen to anything else they've penned.

When sung by runner-up Shannon Noll, the song had a melody. A weak, insipid melody, embellished with cliched lyrics that slip through the brain leaving little trace bar a sense of slight irritation. Guy sensibly adds his own flourishes to the song, but his performance can't save the limp tune.

Will Young sounded too good for tat like Evergreen when he was forced to sing it. Guy Sebastian sounds comfortable and at-home singing this fifth-rate drivel. Even though he is capable of so much better. Even though his talent is going to waste. You don't get the sense that he winces just a little bit at the utterly wet tripe emanating from his mouth, and even though I wanted Cosima to win, I deeply hope that his heart sinks just a little every time he has to sing this, and that this will spur he and his writers to make sure his next song is better.

It's unfair, I suppose, to juxtapose the work of someone a year wiser in the ways of the music biz and perhaps given a hand on the reins of their career with the contractually-obliged mediocre first single of another. It'd be fairer to compare Angels Brought Me Here to Evergreen, perhaps. But listening to the first few originals on Will Young's album shows that Guy Sebastian is going to have to do very, very well if he's to get to a second album and make it worth hearing. Maybe I prefer homosexuals to devout Christians, or more likely, cheap, reheated, treacly sentiment boils my blood far more than it ought.
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