The Singles Bar: 15th October 2012
Sixty or so weeks in, just what is the point of The Singles Bar? It’s not something that’s obvious, and often it probably seems little more than an excuse to write cathartic attacks and rubbish puns, but it isn’t (okay, the puns bit is true). In fact, the point of The Singles Bar, like most music writing, is to share the joy of music. A wonderful song can transform your mood or take you somewhere else entirely and if this column points one person in that direction, then it’s a success. Also, it’s here to recapture some of the spirit of mischievous fun that used to exist in music writing, without any notions of cool or trends.
Does this column succeed? You tell us, but in the meantime, feast your eyes on this week’s ten choices.
When I was a teenager, I used to quite like Placebo. I think a lot of teenagers do. However, as I progress through my twenties, I find them irritating, whiny, one-dimensional, and like a poor man’s Cure (that pun was unintentional, but may actually be my best ever). Molko and co. are still churning them out though, and B3 has a dark, sinister, buzzing synth riff, guitar upon guitar in the chorus, and detached, solipsistic lyrics. It all seems very energetic and raucous, but delve any deeper and it’s entirely without substance. This is something that plagues all the music of Placebo. One day you wake up and realise what a terrible lyric, “A friend in need is a friend indeed, a friend with weed is better”, actually is, and you feel you’ve been duped. Placebo are as Placebo always have been: ineffectual. 4/10
Everything Everything’s debut album, Man Alive, may have been nominated for the Mercury Prize, but it still never seemed to get the recognition is deserved. It was full of invention and, at a time when bands like Maximo Park were struggling to recapture past glories, did something new with the post-punk template. Like its title suggests, Cough Cough is a stop-start, twitchy affair, which is unmistakeably Everything Everything from about ten seconds in. However, the verses and bridge lack a certain something in the middle (it’s all drums, vocals and a frenetic keyboard riff) and the chorus seems to have been lifted from another song entirely. It may not be up there with the high standard of tracks like MY KZ, UR BF or Photoshop Handsome but it’s still great to have them back, even if coughing on a record isn’t the most appealing of sounds. 6/10
Funeral Suits – Hands Down (video NSFW)
We like Funeral Suits here at The Singles Bar. We gave their single, All Those Friendly People, a rather respectable 9/10 back in March and, in an extremely deft trick, the video for Hands Down picks up where All Those Friendly People’s finished. Hands Down starts off extremely measured, threatening to break loose but never quite doing so, before relenting and racing through the gears at the four minute mark. It’s the kind of track that demonstrates that Funeral Suits deserve to make it big and they’re certainly adroit and intelligent songwriters, but it’s perhaps a little too linear to be a single. While hits don’t have to all be verse-chorus-verse-fade, it’s a little frustrating for them to be 75% build-up. Still, it’s a hypnotic and exhilarating piece of work from a band who are starting to really make waves. 7/10
We all love a good pop star controversy, don’t we? There was a minor kerfuffle a few weeks back when Marina Diamandis revealed that the video for this song was to be delayed because her record label didn’t think she looked attractive enough. This was swiftly denied by the label but whatever the real cause of the delay was, it generated some much-needed publicity for an album that debuted well but has fallen down the charts quicker than Felix Baumgartner (topical reference ahoy!). It’s been discussed on these pages before how disappointing it is that Marina has moved so far towards the mainstream, so let’s leave that discussion and just say that How To Be A Heartbreaker is a Euro-house track with a nursery rhyme melody that’s as camp as Christmas. In a bid to inject some of her personality into the track, there’s a gratingly twee, “at least I think I do”, cooed in a babyish voice after the line, “I la-la-la-love you”, which means no-one comes out of this particularly well. If we’ve kept the receipt can we get the old Marina back please? 2/10
This song is SMOOTH. Ridiculously smooth. It’s been sandpapered until it’s perfectly spherical. Neil Tennant has a velvety croon on Leaving, which features none of his more nasal moments, as warm synths wash over you and a drum machine unobtrusively keeps time. It’s astonishingly relaxing, but for the life of me, I can’t work out whether it’s any good or not. My head is telling me it’s boring and goes nowhere, but it creates such an enveloping, safe atmosphere that it’s hard to resist. In the same way that Lost In Translation captured a mood of jetlag, Leaving encapsulates tranquillity and while it may not be a song you’re going to enthuse madly about, we all need someone to stroke our hair and make our tea sometimes, don’t we? Musical mashed potato, in an entirely good way. 8/10
It’s official: we’ve gone full circle. When The Rolling Stones re-sold the blues back to America, it was lapped up as fresh and new. An army of imitators followed in their wake, but it’s been such a long time now that a band like Three Blind Wolves can come along, put their own spin on the blues and it’s more than welcome. Parade actually owes more of a debt to 1970s rock n’ roll bands like The Faces with its expert turns of pace and storytelling lyrics. It’s constantly interesting how a band can fall in love with a sound so removed from their everyday experience or heritage (the band are from Glasgow) but their harmonies are so sun-dappled and gorgeous that you’d have to have a heart of stone to get preoccupied by any magpie tendencies going on. 7/10
One listen to Stay might put you in mind of the retro-loving Michael Kiwanuka, but Karima Francis has actually been on the radar (or, at least, a little below it) for half a decade or so. Stay is an AOR, acoustic-led ballad, but it’s all really window-dressing for Francis’ wonderfully expressive voice, which conveys a great deal of emotion with each note. It’s pretty enough, but a little insubstantial, though you can’t help but think she’s one Radio 2 playlist meeting or Later… With Jools Holland casting session away from Sunday supplement heaven. Basically, if Ray LaMontagne can break into the public consciousness in the way that he did, there’s no reason Karima Francis can’t do exactly the same, even if her songs hardly linger in the memory. 5/10
The first verse of Sweet Nothing is an absolute wonder. Over down-tempo disco, Welch’s voice is nuanced and emits just the right amount of melancholy to match the backing. We all know that can’t last though and before you realise it, the drum machine gets turned up to 11, Florence starts wailing about “sexy elephants” (well, at least that’s what it sounds like) and you’ve got the sledgehammer-to-open-a-monkey-nut aesthetic that both these artists are so renowned for. First verse aside, it sounds exactly as you’d expect a Florence/Calvin song to sound like (which we’ve already had – it was called Spectrum) and that’s no fun, so I’m more preoccupied with the whereabouts of The Machine. Yes, Florence is credited solo for this track, so if you’ve any information pertaining to the location or wellbeing of The Machine, please get in touch with The Singles Bar, as we’re all very worried. Thank you. 3/10
Two seconds and one chord – that’s all it takes for Your Drums, Your Love to reel you in and render you transfixed and powerless. It’s a chord that sounds questioning yet welcoming, with just the right amount of reverb too. Then comes another equally great chord, then another, and then we’re headlong into AlunaGeorge’s intoxicating mix of early 21st Century, twitchy R&B and futuristic sounds, all wrapped up into perfectly-formed three-minute pop songs. The verses are sultry and sophisticated with just a hint of funk and electro, but when the chorus hits, Your Drums, Your Love really shines. It’s full of longing, exceptional melodies and a bassline with just the right amount of spring. It’s somehow old-fashioned, evoking as it does a golden age of pop songwriting, while also being forward-looking an unafraid to take on new challenges and landscapes. In short, it’s nothing short of mesmerising; an utterly wondrous song of which I can’t speak highly enough. Stunning. 10/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK
That AlunaGeorge song was so amazing that presumably it’s thrown me back in time a decade, because that’s the only explanation I can think of for these two coming together to release a single. For artists that made their name in the UK garage explosion, there’s an attempt to reference this with the beats, which aren’t quite 2-step but certainly have similarities, but they also try to step away from it too. The end result is something that sounds muddled and dated, and while The Singles Bar frequently bemoans the identikit, dancefloor sound of pop in 2012, the answer to the problem isn’t – nor is it ever likely to be – regression. But hey, if we’re doing revivals, I’ll look forward to (i.e. anticipate with dread) new singles from Javine, Lonyo, Pay As U Go Cartel and 3 Of A Kind soon. I wonder what DJ Pied Piper is up to these days (to which the only reasonable response is, obviously, “lovin’ it, lovin’ it, lovin’ it). 2/10
So we have our first perfect score of 2012 – do you agree? Let us know your thoughts on this and the other nine tracks using the Disqus form below. See you back here next Monday.15 October, 2012 - 19:25 — Joe Rivers