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Saturday, December 06, 2003

The Cross-Europe Chart Challenge... of Death: FRANCE
Strangely, I always associate French music with two polar opposites; the worst in conservative excessive balladry, and (even when I don't like it) pretty radical house and hip-hop. What have they got in their chart this week? 10 songs I've never heard before - although I had a suspicion I knew what the two covers would sound like, and I was right. Outside the ten, Britney is up 40 places to #11, and amusingly to people who've never heard him sing, Yannick Noah has a single at #59. At least as regards pop that's hit the rest of the world, France seems a little behind. The Pink song in the charts isn't Trouble, it's Family Portrait, down 18 to #90! Outrageous.

1. LINKUP - Mon Etoile. Blimey, this isn't on Soulseek so I tried KaZaa and it's like every French citizen is, perhaps patriotically, sharing fakes to stop evil bastards filching their pop! Really, they needn't bother, this is wretchedly horrible. Yes, it's a joyless, overwrought ballad. 0

2. TRAGEDIE - Hey Oh. I fancifully assumed this might sound like Teletubbies Say Eh Oh from the title. It's like a trip into an alternate universe, actually, as if R&B was descended from French pop and house rather than from soul or disco. Not so much in the beats, though. Interesting, anyway. Unintelligble non-words in chorus are a plus, and, actually quite memory-resident. 7

3. STAR ACADEMY 3 - La Bamba. Words fail me. Really, they do. And to think I'm going to force myself to listen to them again when I get to #5. Isn't there something we, as a society, can do to stop this sort of atrocity from occurring? I gather this is a reality pop deal. What it sounds like is if you took the people who came last and gave them this song to record as a gag prize. Horrifying. It doesn't even rock, and it seems to dispense with the rhythm that makes this song work. 0

4. DIS L'HEURE 2 ZOUK - Ma Rivale, Fiesta Latina. Sounds rather more Spanish than it does French. I can't really get into these sorts of quickish pop things unless they have a massive beat, but even I have to acknowledge the increasingly cool sounds underneath - bringing in a little exoticism, the minimal but effective vocoding and the start-stop rhythm in the choruses. 6

5. STAR ACADEMY 3 - Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting. My theory that these are the contenders for last place rather than first in a reality show suddenly looks unshakeable. "I wanna rock/I wanna get a belly full of beer!", all sung with a lack of conviction or indeed confidence that's almost hilarious. 0

6. UNDERDOG PROJECT - Summer Jam 2003. These guys again. This is a better song than Saturday Night. "We're gonna party as much as we can!" they say, and they sound like it. It has a sort of comedy alarm noise and whistles in it too, smooth if unremarkable vocals and an insistent, repetitive trance-ish keyboard motif. 7

7. DIADEMS - Encore. It's the French Evanescence! Chunky riffs, female vocals, shouty chorus - despite what I just said it doesn't sound like Evanescence at all. French doesn't really sound good over this sort of thing, but probably an acquired taste. I keep expecting them to say "bouillabaise" or "omelet fromage" - it really sounds like they're reading out the names of French food to me. I'm a philistine, I know. 4

8. GOMEZ & DUBOIS - Ronde De Nuit. At last, some French rapping! And shouting! And it's funky, love the bass. Chorus has some chick singing above lots more shouting, and it's great. Later on, there's a whining 80s electro noise, too. I've got no idea what it means, but it sounds pretty damn good. 8

9. FAUDEL - Je Veux Vivre. Too much French acoustic folk for my liking. Nice one-second accordion appearance, but the whole thing has a sleep-inducing effect - especially the mixing on the vocals. 3

10. CERENA & UMBERTO TOZZI - Toi, Tu. Bells are not a good sound, usually anything near them gets turned to shit. People making bell noises, however, is a really, really excellent noise. This has both, and I'm torn. The chorus (with the human bells) really is pretty great indeed, but the verses are extremely not. 4

39 for France then. Oů est la disco? French rap is great, though, although tomorrow I'll deny it.
# 8:45 AM []

Friday, December 05, 2003

LISA SCOTT LEE - Obscenely Delicious
Hooray! Lisa does seem to have an album coming out, amusingly titled Unleashed. Samplers exist, containing the two singles and four new tracks. There's another Lately sound-a-like (Back In Time), one that sounds like the 2003 model Holly Valance (Sleazy), which is good stuff and the seemingly contractually obligated Shit Ballad, I'll Wait For You, which will probably be her next single that sends her career completely down the shitter.

And then there's this rather fantastic number, which mixes a filthy synth, disco bass and that swooshing noise that punctuated Spiller's Groovejet at its beginning before some blips come in and Lisa starts singing, and despite the title, she doesn't seem to be shooting for the sex siren heights of her first two singles, both of which worked despite the posturing rather than because of it. The uptempo disco chorus is immediately preceded by a quiet bit, another swoosh, and contains bad, obvious rhymes and good, obvious hooks, the best possible combination. It's all very mid-90s and wouldn't be out of place on this best of Europop 94-99 MP3 disc I keep saying I'll make and never do.

Best of all, you can download it from the sidebar for the next week. Oh and Lisa's Record Company, please rescue I'm Burning from its obscurity as a Netherlands-only B-side and put it on the album. It's very similar to a hypothetical cross between Kylie Minogue's Love At First Sight and Burnin' Up, and as such, is magnificent.
# 11:50 PM []
The Cross-Europe Chart Challenge... of Death: SWEDEN
Ah, Sweden. Where ridiculously hyperactive, bouncing joy pop is born, and then assembled by perky blonde sex bots. To save time and tedious writing, Outkast get 10, Britney gets 8, Black Eyed Peas, as ever, in the absence of negative numbers get 0, Dido gets 7 and Pink gets 8. And now, onto stuff I haven't rated over and over again.

1. SARA LOFGEN - Starkare. Reminds me quite a bit of Cyndi Lauper's True Colors, but I don't know why. I like how the words sound in the chorus, Swedish is very pleasing to the ear, but I can't remember the melody after having heard it, which is essential for your mid-paced pop numbers. 5

2. MARKOOLIO - Vilse I Skogen. Why, I'm not sure, but when I hear this two things immediately spring to mind. The first is B*Witched. Even though it's a male singer, mind. It's the music. The second is Rasputin. What this means is that this is taking me to a very, very happy place. 8

4. MIIO MED AYO - Ska Vi Ga Hem Till Dig. It's a mid-tempo ballad, livened up enormously by hilarious goofy rap bit where rap guy seems to go through the vowel sounds at the end! 7

9. PETER JOBACK/SISSEL KYRKJEBO - Ga Inte Forbi. I have to confess I don't know if I have the right version of this. It sounded drippy, and so did a few other Joback numbers I sampled. Therefore, I stand by this rating. 0

10. SEPTEMBER - We Can Do It. Excellent retro-ish number, strongly redolent of the first big pop hits to be influenced by trance without being rubbish.9

62 as Sweden proves it's more than just where Cheiron used to be, as if they needed anything else. Take that (and party), everyone else!
# 12:39 PM []
LIBERTY X - Everybody Cries
Oh goddamnit. There I was, just having worked out my top 30 singles of the year to countdown on my blog after the first round of the Europop and then I see this on Mp3sfinder. I was utterly sure the X were going to put out the good, but not great Watcha Doin' Tonight as their next single and this one would be left on the album to rot. Hopefully this one doesn't actually get released until January so I don't have to change the ordering or anything. Because this is really great stuff. It should give them a chance at another UK #1 if released in a slow week, and would deserve the position even in a competitive one.

It's a big ballad. You can usually calculate how good a big ballad is by measuring its similarity to either Sugababes' Run For Cover, Shakespear's Sister's Stay or All Saints' Never Ever. The ideal pop song would be one that sounds exactly like all of them at the same time and hopefully someone somewhere is working on that.

This one, though, takes a wonderfully different tack, with some Bond-theme strings, a hint of piano at dramatic points, the repetition of two bass notes, and steeping the heartbreak in high-gloss soap opera drama. Backing vocals mournfully echo the front vocal lines they follow, and the string break explodes out of a orgasmically good multi-part harmony weepie bit. This is very, very classy stuff. Absolutely nothing has been left to chance, every bit of blank space has been filled, and each member sounds in top voice and distinct from each other which I think was a bit of a problem on their last few singles.
# 8:28 AM []
The Cross-Europe Chart Challenge... of Death: BELGIUM
Home of Technotronic, and, er K's Choice. And Plastic Bertrande! They have more varieties of beer than any other country, I read somewhere. Kim Clijsters is from Belgium, and she is great, so Belgium clearly has a lot going for it. By Europe's standards, it's a fairly small country, so it's interesting to see that their chart has quite a good number of Belgian hits in it.

1. NATALIA - I've Just Begun To Fight. Like this! Disco disco disco disco! Was #2 last week, must be a mistake because surely this has always been Number One and always will be.10

2. SARAH & KOEN WAUTERS - You Are The Reason. Oh god, this is the music of my nightmares. Eternal Flame as recreated or channeled, with extra helpings of cloying sincerity, by irritating country duo. 2

3. TIESTO - Traffic. Nice big discordant nagging synthy keyboard bits. Not really very much more than that. Can't imagine dancing to it, either.4

4. NENA & KIM WILDE - Anyplace, Anywhere, Anytime. Ooh, I've been loving this song's muffins for yonks now, nice to see it's still around. Great big honking riff, bilingual nonsense, anthemic, cheesy and hugely enjoyable. 10

5. XINK! - De Vriendschapsband. Dull guitar song with odd-sounding singer. Reminds me a bit of Saint Etienne's version of Are We Gonna Be Alright?, actually. 5

6. BRITNEY SPEARS FEATURING MADONNA - Me Against The Music. Yes, this is still very decent, and I love the fact that people said she was clearly over when she's top 10 all over the world, and there are a few further top 10s to be mined from In The Zone too, like Toxic and Breathe On Me. 8

7. UNDERDOG PROJECT - Saturday Night. It's got a squelchy bubble keyboard noise, which is a plus, and some juddering beats and tinkling in the chorus. It's only OK, days of the week songs don't do anything for me, and seems to go on for a long, long time even though, as far as the linear progression of time goes, it actually doesn't. 6

8. SPRING - Te Min Voor Anja. Oh, I like this. This brings the spirit of Andrew WK-style dumb party rock to Europop, except it also sounds like this electronics ad jingle I remember from a few years back. And it doens't really rock, I think that rather rubbish comparison is down to the relentless charging stride more than anything else. 8

9. BLACK EYED PEAS - Shut Up. That chick they have now sings a lot on this. It's not very good, to be honest. Actually, if the whole thing sounded like the chorus, it'd be OK in that stoopid fashion, but it's got them rapping on it because they're the thinking person's rap group, aren't they. Twats. 3

10. BLACK EYED PEAS - Where Is The Love? Oh, for fuck's sake, people! 0

Go Belgium. It's your birthday. 56, storming stuff. And that's with two BEP songs in it. Yes, I feel (and hope) that a second wave (was there a first wave?) of amazing Belgian pop will sweep the earth, scorching it in the fires of trance hell, and the righteous will be saved and rubbish indie believers will be first against the wall!
# 6:54 AM []
GIRLS ALOUD - You Freak Me Out
Woo! This is not very good, to be honest. This new track is from a Disney soundtrack and geez, it sounds like it. It sounds a little like Shampoo (remember them? Viva! La Megababes! What a song that was, and like the Aloud, they once covered East 17), except minus the crisp treatment of the guitars and beats and any semblance of personality from the singing. And the presence of a decent song, too. To be accurate, it opens with a guitar, a rockish beat and a flat, lifeless melody. The only brief moment of energy or excitement is the "woo" in the chorus, and when a lovely synth line comes in before the ROCK! SOLO! which, unlike good rock solos, isn't even remotely fun or silly. It's all too restrained and polite, and what's most annoying is that just as the song's fading out, there's one of those great Swirling Pop Keyboard Melody Bits, and if that had been used a bit more liberally, the song wouldn't have seemed so limp.

No, I can't countenance this sort of rubbish, especially how GA's producers have disembowelled the perfectly wonderful GA debut album by lopping off the UK bonus tracks (the quite good Everything You Ever Wanted and the utterly magnificent, Betty Boo-penned Love Bomb), leaving the worst two songs still there (the Spice-Girls b-sideness Love/Hate and the rubbish sappy ballad Forever And A Night), re-recording the stunning Some Kind of Miracle and making it sound like Squeaky Teens Aloud: The Tribute Act of Young, Cloying Bints Massacring Great Pop Songs Without Any Sass Whatsoever, and added some cover versions to the tracklisting. What an utter fuckup this is.

If GA keep doing things like this, any reputation they may have gleaned thanks to their outside-of-the-square, classy pop and brash singalongs will be eroded and their second album will be shit as the best songwriters take their wares elsewhere. I'm not sure whether the fact that this repackage is just a grab for extra sales makes me understand the reasoning more or simply despise it for messing what was fairly close to being one of the best pop albums of the year.
# 5:44 AM []

Thursday, December 04, 2003

The Cross-Europe Chart Challenge... of Death: SPAIN
At last, I've found a bona fide oddity here. Apart from the fact that Dido is on every chart in the world, which is itself pretty odd even if it's actually not a bad song, the several-year old version of How Soon Is Now as performed (rubbishly) by Love Spit Love is, for some reason, is at #34. Why? Has it taken them that long to dub Charmed into Spanish?

1. CHENOA - En Tu Cruz Me Clavaste. Right. The opening bit of melody in this is taken from something else. I just know it, it's so similar, it was like I knew it even as I heard it for the first time. I think it's an R & B song from the last 5 years. This is going to annoy the shit out of me until I work it out. I imagine by the time I actually do I will have grown to like this a lot. It has a flute, and a not-too-horrible rappy bit and it's not a shit slow ballad like I feared it would be. 8

2. REM - Bad Day. Wow, this is actually on the up. REM might actually end up being #1 somewhere. Even though this song is not even remotely engaging. 4

3. ROSA - La Esencia De Tu Voz. Tinkling piano, charging bass, dance beat all present and correct, the intro is even vocodered, but this retains the cheese of most Europop without being exciting. Actually, this is a bit of a shame, it's really only missing a chorus, it does actually remind me of a Steps album track, as translated into Spanish and given a minor stylistic makeover in the arrangement. Might be a grower. 5

4. LA OREJA DE VAN GOGH - Rosas. Starts out, musically, a little 99 Luftballons, always a good thing, lush vocals too, nice instrumental breaky bit, but hard pressed to come up with anything more descriptive than "nice". 4

5. FRAN PEREA - Mi Corazon. I can imagine this playing at the spanish equivalents of country hoedowns, quite decent Spanish rock cum ballad. Has everything in the right bits and some deeply-buried organ in the mix, and generally pops along in a not unpleasant fashion. 6

6. CAFE QUIJANO - Tequila. Not a patch on Terrorvision (i.e. gets less than 5), sadly, though the pronunciation of "tequila" stands out in the chorus, as if the band know that tequila is fun and exciting even though this song isn't, try as it might. 2

7. TONY AGUILAR - Latido Urbano. His last name is one letter different to the name of the town I live in. Has an acoustic guitar. I can't put too much thought into this because I'm still trying desperately hard to work out what the Chenoa song, which is miles better than this, sounds like. Sorry. 3

8. TIZIANO FERRO - Perverso
This one seems to be available in Italian and Spanish. It's not too difficult to imagine Enrique Iglesias sounding like this if he were produced by The Neptunes. There's some of that wordless vocalising I like and some scratching. No, not bad at all. 7

9. DIDO - White Flag. Now, as it ever was, 7

10. NATASHA ST-PIER - Encontraras. The opening sound of this indicates mega-fat trance stomper. Sadly, the result is extremely wet ballad. Good piano line. Not very interesting. 3

49, a lot better than I anticipated. I have to give it up to the site I got the chart from, it's rather excellent - if you're patient, it loads a bit of the video of the Number One single in a tiny window, which I think is a nice touch.
# 7:29 AM []

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Victoria Beckham - Don't Disturb This Groove
Let's get things out of the way first, while Let Your Head Go is definitely a dance-pop number, as promised by the intriguing (at least to me and the three other people interested in Victoria) concept behind Posh's upcoming double-A, this is hardly a hip-hop number. And I'm not averse to the idea of Victoria doing hip-hop, this sort of feeling that is tangible on message boards about her being unable to or having no right to try her hand at is bollocks. I don't have any emotional connection to the idea of hip-hop as a movement or a culture, I don't care who does it, I just care whether it, er, bumps.

She can carry a tune passably, and she's expressionless enough to blend into her surroundings. Out Of Your Mind with the True Steppers was awesome, and her blankness worked in her favour on that. So why shouldn't she make the sort of music she enjoys?

Really, it's a bit of a gutless move. She's supposed to be fighting with her record company over this... really? I can't believe it, it doesn't make sense because there's nothing offensive about this, although I question its charting potential. "Sex is written in the script/The writing's on the wall" she muses, while "this groove" doesn't actually seem to be present at all. The chorus melody is lifted from The System's song of the same name, and that was a perfectly decent fat synthy pop thing, and to be frank, it was far more hip-hop than this. I can't really imagine that Victoria really likes this sort of thing - are we really supposed to believe she sipped champagne with M.O.P.?

It's all perfectly competent of course, but it provides decent fodder for nobody; the lovers will have to try awfully hard to convince themselves that this is a good piece of work, and there's nothing really to dislike. Such a blatant exercise in focus-grouping should have been fun and exciting, the mismatch in quality of her two releases is going to make it very boring. Let Your Head Go should win by a mile as it has a hook.
# 5:10 AM []

Monday, December 01, 2003

The Cross-Europe Chart Challenge... of Death: UNITED KINGDOM
Home, I'm deluded, of the world's best pop. Both in the making of it, and the buying of it. They have Sugababes, who are great. They have Atomic Kitten, who are also great, even though nobody admits to liking them, even though secretly they probably do. They like Westlife, but they've also sent Tatu, Evanescence, Blu Cantrell and Kylie to #1 in the last 12 months, so their people must know something. Even if it does seem that 75% of all great pop songs are written by Cathy Dennis or Karen Poole, I'm sure it's not so, either.

1. WILL YOUNG - Leave Right Now. Astonishingly good ballad, far better than it, or indeed anything, has any right to be. 10

2. SHANE RICHIE - I'm Your Man. Move along, nothing to see here. Don't think about it, and if you haven't heard it, try not to change this. 2

3. WESTLIFE - Mandy. And Louis Walsh wanted Girls Aloud to lose weight? Jesus. 0

4. GIRLS ALOUD - Jump (For My Love). Still as good as it was on first listen. Would get 10, but since it's not Some Kind Of Miracle it doesn't. No, really, I cannot understand WHY SKoM is not a) a single, and b) Number One in every country in the world, even ones were girl bands are barred from that honour by law. 9

5. MICHAEL JACKSON - One More Chance. The biggest sin every Michael Jackson song in the last few years has commited is not being unlistenable, they've all been so dull and unworthy of any decent venom. And while releasing mediocre, pointless song after another, his fans don't have to let go, always expecting him to rise phoenix-like. He's not going to do it - don't break your fans' hearts slow, MJ, just put out something shit and quit. Doesn't he owe it to us to let us HATE what he's doing? 0

6. ALEX PARKS - Maybe That's What It Takes. Sounds like Annie Lennox covering Coldplay doing a tribute to that big Pretenders ballad from 10 years ago. 5

7. KEVIN LYTTLE - Turn Me On. Even a few weeks haven't dulled its impact. Very refreshing, hopefully there'll be more like it to follow. 8

8. BUSTED - Crashed The Wedding. 5 points for pushing all my obvious pop buttons, but no more because I still don't like it very much. 5

9. JA RULE - Reigns. Samples the worst song ever written (Africa by Toto, in case you were one of the blissful few who didn't know) and manages to be about as atrocious. 0

10.OUTKAST - Hey Ya! See, the thing is, those two lines that get all the attention ("polaroid picture" and "just wanna make you come-a!") aren't even the best bits. And they're great! 10

And the UK has been comprehensively owned by Finland, scoring an extremely poxy 51. And I might have fudged Busted up a point because I'm trying to avoid being accused of secretly hating pop.

Admittedly the fact that Westlife and Ja Rule were out works against the UK, but Outkast and Kevin Lyttle are still there, and they're practically ancient. Is this the end of my Anglophilia? No, not while Sarah Whatmore, Lisa Scott-Lee and (titter) Phixx! just might just get chances to release new singles, fools!
# 9:27 AM []
JC CHASEZ - Some Girls (Dance With Women)
I've had this on my Soulseek wishlist for what seems like weeks now - intrigued by his contribution to the Basement Jaxx album, plus, secretly, hoping that his stuff will be ace so all the people who claim hating Justin Timberlake is some kind of guilt-defense mechanism (it's not!) will look stupid. Nick of Simple Pleasures enthusiastically recommended a song recorded for a soundtrack, Blowing Me Up With Her Love, but I didn't feel it, though I appreciated its busy-ness.

Anyway, a 47-second sample popped up and I heard it. Sadly it stopped as soon as it was about to get interesting. Thankfully I waited and someone with the full thing logged on, and the whole thing downloaded to my greedy hard drive. And yes, it's rather great, it shits on Like I Love You although saying that is just lazy, the two songs don't share a huge amount of ground, really. In that it's got a really minimal sound, and it just sounds less complex the more layers are added on musically make it far more closely related to Kylie's Slow, except it's actually quite a pace quicker. Except that's a bit lazy too given that it also doesn't sound like that either.

JC doesn't sound like a member of a successful boy-band here. His melody wafts nicely, delivered with little force or flourish, and it all kind of lilts nicely. The second verse has some sound effects to underline the words, and the attention to detail is appreciated in something otherwise so sparse. The words are a monologue of being in a club, and the chorus makes the observation that he'd really like to get in with the girls that dance with women to get attention. I'm not entirely sure what it all means in the end. The way the words are delivered are ambiguous enough to read any sort of trait you like into the song. Sexually frustrated? Dancefloor confident? Resigned? Impartial observer? No idea, really. Kinetic, not hyperactive melody? Check. Pleasing beats? Check. Doesn't outstay it's welcome? Check. Great song? Yes.

Maybe if JC had attempted the all-conquering all-things-to-all-women sexxxxx of Timberlake it'd have had clearer focus, but it wouldn't have sounded playful and endearing.
# 5:42 AM []
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