Music Features

The Singles Bar - 20th February 2012




Joe's off preparing for the BRITs live-blog tomorrow night (*Insert training montage of him meditating on a mountain top, sparring with a generic “Asian” wise-man, and trying to get through a Florence + The Machine record without vomiting*) so I'll be your guide to the singles this week; my first time doing so in 2012. I'm hoping that things will go more smoothly than the last time I stepped in, although either way, at least there won't be any more Christmas songs to get through this time...


Matt Cardle - Perfect

Oh, we've not really got off to the best of starts. For a start that title has to go. Perfect may be a fluid, intangible, possibly even theoretically impossible concept, but I'm fairly certain that whatever it is, it isn't the sound of a former X Factor winner simpering so wetly over a barely-there acoustic guitar strum that he's practically dripping through the speakers.

I'm trying to my best to remain positive and to not declare his falsetto as bordering on the Dolores O'Riordan, but it's honestly hurting my ears, so perhaps we should just move on... 0/10


Nicki Minaj – Starships

I'm not really sure what's odder about Starships' release. The fact that it emerged without a huge amount of fanfare on Valentine's Day (it's not the most romantic of songs), or that it followed hot on the heels of her performance at the Grammys and yet isn't the track that she performed that night. Not that that's really a bad thing as, spectacular as it was, her performance that evening was a bit of a mess really wasn't it?

While Starships is (based on that evidence) a much better track than Roman Holiday, it doesn't give me much of a reason to change my mind about Minaj – that (as I think I said in a previous Singles Bar column) she's an incredibly talented, interesting, distinctive vocalist but precisely none of her tracks (other than Super Bass, and her collaborations with Kanye) do her justice – probably that's something to do with the unnecessary auto-tune and grating euro-dance backing that goes so far beyond Guetta it lands somewhere fairly close to DJ Otzi territory. 4/10


Beth Jeans Houghton And The Hooves Of Destiny – Sweet Tooth Bird

I've tried my best to avoid Beth Jeans Houghton and her Hooves Of Destiny, despite the positive word that she's been receiving from seemingly every fan of sensitive singer-songwriters on the web, I think it's just because whenever I see that name it sets my teeth on edge. As far as song titles go Sweet Tooth Bird is also verging on the nauseatingly cute, and on actually hearing it, that seems like a fair judgment of the song itself; it's all deftly done but just a little bit too quirky and chaotic for my liking, kicking off with a rather boisterous trumpet that acts as a fanfare for a barrage of... stuff.

But then I don't care much for St Vincent either (who she almost uncannily resembles here), so I'm perfectly willing to admit that I'm the one who's at fault here. 5/10


StooShe – Love Me

Almost a year after the British-Ghanian girl group announced their arrival with the extremely cheeky Fuck Me, the song's been re-released and cleaned up for mass consumption. Which sort of defeats the point of it really as the clumsy edits and rewrites trample over most of the best gags (the En Vogue reference in the sweary original genuinely made me laugh out loud; here, not so much), and while I'm pointing out faults with it, while the removal of Suave Debonair's diabolical rap from the original should be applauded, it has instead been replaced with a potentially worse one by Travie McCoy (Debonair may have been technically awful, but at least he had character). All that being said, the girls' natural charm is still there and it's still snotty enough to get many people's backs up - if the idea of a Spice Girls formed entirely of Mel B clones sends shivers down your spine, probably best that you steer well clear, otherwise, go nuts! 7/10   


Spector - Chevy Thunder

After all the hype that London five-piece Spector received at the end of last year (culminating, inevitably, in a place in the BBC's Sound of 2012 poll) this is actually the first time I've heard them, and... I kind of wish that I hadn't bothered.

There's nothing bad per se about Chevy Thunder, but that doesn't stop it being really pissing annoying. If this is anything to go by, the hot sound of British indie in 2012 is to release something almost identical to a Vaccines track, just with slightly better production values and without the good grace to bow out after a minute. And the video... it's hard to think of what's the most irritating thing about it; at first I thought it was the prominently placed copy of Antony Kiedis' autobiography, then it was the sight of these nice, painfully white London boys staging a run-in with a Mexican gang to look edgy; to be honest it's probably their unbelievably vile sense of fashion, with each grotesquely coloured shirt even more likely to cause hallucinations than the last (I can't fault their choice of shoes though). 3/10


The Cast Of Cheers – Family

The Cast Of Cheers also arrive on a wave of hype and expectation, possibly just because of their name, which manages to pull off the skilful trick of being so awful that it's actually fairly memorable (after all, it worked for The Beatles). Now, as with the debut release of any hotly tipped band, comes the tricky part of actually listening to them while trying to keep a sense of perspective. At least it would be tricky if Family wasn't so easy to see through. Right from the first burst of herky-jerky guitar you know exactly where they're coming from (and just in case their blatant desire to be Vampire Weekend wasn't already evident enough, there's the A-Punk-aping video to give you a helping hand). It's staggeringly derivative, but it is well done all the same, and odds are that the “My head, my heart, my heart, the floor” refrain will stick around in your head after listening. Although, considering Vampire Weekend hit their commercial and critical peak years ago now, I don't see this doing quite as well as everybody seems to think that it will. 6/10


Cher Lloyd – Want U Back

Following the release of Cher Lloyd's debut single Swagger Jagger last year, I was one of the many who instantly leapt on the former X Factor contestant, declaring the song to be one of the worst achievements in the history of recorded sound and hoping that her career would soon be over. Then I caught her a few weeks ago on Panorama's expose (or at least it would have been had it not all been so painfully obvious) on cyber-bullying, in which she came across as very likeable, if slightly naïve, young woman and I instantly felt a bit guilty about the whole thing.

So I wasn't much looking forward to the prospect of having to review her latest single. Luckily Want U Back is one of the better tracks from her album, so I don't have to worry about accidentally launching into a tirade against the poor pop moppet. Based around a schoolyard sing-song pattern and a repeating guttural grunt from Lloyd (I'd very much like to see her hook-up with Minaj, although I suspect that they might cancel each other out); it's deliberately obnoxious pop that's only really going to appeal to 14 year old girls, but it's some of the best deliberately obnoxious pop to emerge since the heyday of Daphne & Celeste. 6/10


SBTRKT – Hold On

SBTRKT's self-titled album of stylish electronica got most critics into a bit of tizzy last year. I say most as I, for one, was left a bit cold by it and this slab of James Blake-leaning blubstep isn't really any different, although I will acknowledge that it is handsomely done and its multi-tracked soulful vocals are wonderfully tasteful.

What does make Hold On's release a big deal though is that Thom Yorke's gone and done a remix for the B-Side. As to what it sounds like, well, it buzzes and howls in all the right places, and shows all the emotional depth you'd expect from one of the guys responsible for The King of Limbs, which to put it bluntly isn't very much at all, but that won't stop people from getting all excited about it anyway. 6/10


Sons & Daughters – Orion Remixes

I do have a bit of a soft-spot for perennial underdogs Sons & Daughters, as I already mentioned in my review of their last album Mirror Mirror. However, the claim from their label that the record was “afforded universal critical acclaim on release last year” raised some concern, as that's not how I remember it going down. Instead, it was met with mixed-to-warm reviews and complete public indifference, which was a shame as, despite a few wobbles during its run-time, it was a pretty good record.

Now, in an effort to drum up some interest, Mirror Mirror's choice cuts have been given the remix treatment (Orion being the second in the series of 12”s) and, incredibly, they might be able to pull it off, as the lead mix by Emperor Machine tries its damnedest to reposition the group in with the DFA crowd, not least through its healthy dose of cowbell. Arguably 11 minutes of it is far too much, but it's still pretty interesting.

Although not as interesting as the closing take by Sons and Daughters' fellow Glaswegians Wrong Island, who turn in something drenched in icy, echoey, synths that really explores the Martin Hannett-goes-to-the-Disco potential of the original and sounds spectacularly evil. 8/10 SINGLE OF THE WEEK


Kasabian – Goodbye Kiss

Would that it were, Kasabian. Although I don't think I could stretch to a kiss, at best I could only offer a handshake of slightly forced cordiality.

Yes, Britain's favourite Oasis tribute act/troglodytes (same difference) are back, attempting to squeeze another single out of their fourth long-player Velociraptor!. This is the slow one, in fact this is the one that's so slow that one suspects that Tom Meighan was dosed up on ketamine before he recorded his vocals, judging by how unbearably drawn out they are.

Otherwise what we get is a lazy Liam Gallagher-esque “la la la”-based chorus; the use of the line “Rock n roll sends us insane”, which is almost as bad as the infamous “Please don't put your lives in the hand, of a rock n roll band”; and a string section... who actually sound great but have no business being here (it's the bloated “shove an orchestra in” excess of Britpop all over again). It's quite jaw-dropping that Kasabian can so blatantly rip-off the Oasis-template and yet still get away with making claims about being an “avant-garde” band.

What's worse is that their plan actually seems to be working, not only do the lads manage to play arenas, but even the critics seem to be buying this shit. I have a feeling that I'm going to have to invest in a sandwich board and a bell and roam around the country informing everyone that the divine Brothers Gallagher were frauds from the start (well, at least after the release of their first album) and that under no circumstances should we be rewarding copycat behaviour. Although I suspect that once I've started it'll be difficult to stop, and I'll feel compelled to denounce all other instances of music industry based corruption and decadence that I come across… 0/10


Gym Class Heroes – Ass Back Home how I have to deal with not one but two Travie McCoy-featuring singles this week, despite the fact that the man is almost entirely devoid of vocal presence and rhyming ability (trying to get through his flow here is like wading through treacle). Also, there's nothing less sexy than an artist telling us how sexy they're trying to be... 0/10


Jessie J – Domino

...not that Jessie “I've never come across a note that I didn't want to over-emote on” J got that message, as she demonstrates on Domino, cynically re-released to tie in with the BRITs even though it's already been to Number 1 once (which is one more time than it actually deserved to)... 0/10


James Morrison – Slave To The Music

...speaking of cynical, here's J's former duet partner with another gravelly “This one's for all the housewives out there!” ballad. Although, just to make matters worse not only is Morrison trying out a new funk-y direction, it's clearly been inspired by the sort of funk that's peddled by Lenny Kravitz rather than any musician with even a shred of artistic integrity, and he even attempts to scat too. It is, of course, horrific, and it will, of course, sell by the bucket-load. 0/10


Well, so much for good intentions. I came in full of enthusiasm and planning on giving everything a fair hearing and left feeling old, haggard and full of despair. Still I think I got the better half of the bargain - I only had to sit through a handful of terrible songs, rather than three hours of misplaced industry backslapping. Let's all wish Joe the best of luck for tomorrow night, and hope that he'll make a speedy enough recovery to be able to man the Singles Bar next week.