The Singles Bar: 3rd December 2012
While the world’s media goes into overdrive with the shock news that a married woman of childbearing age is pregnant, we prefer to focus on the more important issues of the day. Why is there a rapper named after a 70s footballer? Why are people talking about Willy Mason again? What exactly is the point of Ciara? If you want to know the answers to these questions, and more besides, read on, intrepid explorer, read on.
Well, this is all rather lovely, isn’t it? Lianne La Havas’ debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough?, has snuck up on me in the past few months and revealed itself to be one of the year’s finest, and songs like Age show exactly why. Over simple, unadorned, jazzy guitar, La Havas sings exquisitely about a relationship with an older man. It’s an unshowy track, and one designed to show off her great voice and way around a chord book, and it does it rather well. It’s a cynical world we live in these days, but I find the video of La Havas dancing with a man old enough to be her grandfather quite sweet (if a little similar to one of those commercials for butter with olive oil extract). She’s got the same songwriting instinct that Corinne Bailey Rae displayed on her first record, and the fact she can turn out stuff like this hopefully means we’ll get a decent follow-up album out of her too. Hooray. 8/10
Do we consider the second album from The xx a success? I mean, everybody liked it when it came out and it got good reviews, but after the media saturation and clever distribution mechanisms that greeted its release, it’s all gone a bit quiet now. ‘A bit quiet’ is probably exactly how The xx like it though, and it’s easy to forget how adept their songs are. Like most of their oeuvre, Chained doesn’t particularly do much, but what it does do, it does exceptionally well. The soft croons of Romy and Oliver complement the gentle melodies of Chained perfectly, and the atmospheric sounds and unobtrusive beats frame the vocals so well. They say simple songs are the hardest to write, but The xx make it look a piece of cake. They may no longer have the shock of the new on their side, but The xx really are one of Britain’s finest bands. 8/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK
Cut Me Open begins with gorgeous, sweeping strings that dominate the arrangement – the kind of bold move that hasn’t been deployed this well since Tindersticks’ sumptuous My Oblivion. It seems unlikely the track can improve from there, and it doesn’t, but it is a beautifully lazy, even-paced slice of sun-drenched indie-rock. As far as criticisms go – the clanging guitar in the bridge is a little too abrasive against the swooning background, and the reintroduction of the strings in the chorus is perhaps a little too saccharine, but for the most part, it’s a great track. Mardock’s voice displays just enough emotion without being cloying, and cracks at exactly the right points. He also gets bonus points because he used to be in a band called Eagull Seagull. 7/10
Obviously it’s wrong to steal people’s jokes, but it’s ok if you credit them, isn’t it? Good. Every time I hear about Meek Mill I can’t help but remember journalist Simon Price’s comment that he’s come a long way since he was the captain of Ipswich Town FC. In that respect, Meek Mill is a lot like Rick Ross or The Wire’s Dennis Wise. Anyway, Dreams And Nightmares starts off unremarkably, with a pretty piano line behind Mill’s fairly standard flow. However, just before the two minute mark, the track takes a turn for the scary, with oppressive synths, discordant sounds and rhyming that’s far more frenetic. Presumably this is the ‘nightmare’ section to contrast with the opening ‘dream’ bit. It’s a deft move, and it shows that Mill has certainly got something to him, but it’s only one trick in an otherwise disappointing track. The in-your-face flow of the second half can get a little wearing, and lyrically, the ground it treads is so well worn it’s practically the earth’s mantle. Still, 591 Ipswich appearances and 42 England caps – you can’t argue with that. 5/10
It’s difficult to know what to think about Diplo. On one hand, he’s a musical traveller, going around the world to bring sounds from disparate genres together in his own unique way. On the other, he’s happy to appropriate bits of other cultures to suit his own ends and then claim the credit. Whatever your opinion of the man, we can probably agree that the one thing that laid-back reggae doesn’t need is the maximalist brostep of Flux Pavillion all over the top of it. Like most brostep, it completely tramples all over everything, and removes any inkling of feeling, groove or subtlety out of what could have been a half-decent record. Remember how mash-ups were all the rage a decade or so ago and now they sound hopelessly passé? Well, this is like that, except about ten times more clumsy and crass. You may as well get Skrillex to “remix” The Wailers. 1/10
A few years back, Willy Mason’s slacker drawl and acoustic calling card, Oxygen, made him look a good bet to pretty much inherit the earth. But, for whatever reason, it never quite happened, so here he is, about to release his third album, and gaining attention (again) by supporting the inexplicably popular bore-rock peddler Ben Howard. I Got Gold is the kind of track you could describe as a “perfectly pleasant ditty” – it doesn’t outstay its welcome (it’s barely two and a half minutes long), it’s got a decent central hook and it’s melodious. However, it also doesn’t really go anywhere, it’s actually quite a pedestrian number, and it seems Mason might be destined to spend his career in the margins after all. 5/10
Quiet bit with strummed chords. Add drums and piano. Go a bit faster. Sing a bit louder. Do more strumming. Add simply-picked banjo arpeggios. Bring in chorus with lots of “wooooooah” sounds. Repeat verse with a few more instruments. Repeat chorus but growl the last line this time. Add strings to instrumentation to convey emotion and depth. BREAK IT DOWN! Simple strums again. Strip it back to just banjo and kick drum. Build up. Build up. Check instructions to make sure you’re sticking rigidly to them. Horns. Chorus (but with HARMONIES this time). Chorus again but with singing like a wounded animal. Repeat on every song for two albums. Become ridiculously popular for no good reason. Charm America by playing up your Christian credentials. Succeed in Britain by playing down your Christian credentials. Ruin everything. Appropriate some folk reference points in bid for authenticity. Have a style of shoe named after you (for some reason). Don’t forget to “WOAH-OOOOHHHHH!” some more. Have your friends run the government. Attract opprobrium. Don’t do anything remotely inventive or interesting. Compartmentalise yourselves. Think firmly INSIDE the box. Be so, so crushingly dull it’s actually offensive.
And that, boys and girls, is the Mumford formula. 0/10
Mr. Milles (not Meek Mill) has certainly paid his dues, having been on the fringes of the industry for a good few years now. Not Enough is a pulsating, driving indie anthem which brings to mind a Doves track, but one sung by someone with a much richer, more palatable voice. The drums in the soar-away chorus keep the pace up and ensure that boredom is never an option. In a way, Milles is unlucky that it’s 2012 and not the Britpop era because while this track isn’t exactly Blur or Oasis, smart, guitar-led pop like this used to get in the charts on an alarmingly regular basis back then. Not Enough isn’t exactly life-changing, but there’s enough about it to make you want to investigate Milles further and keep your fingers crossed that he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve. 6/10
I can’t help but think that artists don’t take enough time to stop and consider how utterly rubbish their stage names are. Plan B? It’s hardly going to make you listen to him if he’s saying himself that he’s second best. Labrinth? OK, it’s possibly an allusion to complexity and depth, but why no ‘y’? Of course, this wasn’t helped when the world saw him get lost at the BRIT Awards, suggesting Labrinth isn’t the best at negotiating difficult path systems. Anyway, Playing With Fire sounds like the kind of thing you’ve heard from Plan B more than once before. In fact, the first line – “He’s just a kid from the estate” – is almost like something from a Plan B lyric-o-meter. And the references to a “poster boy for David Cameron’s Broken Britain” seem odd from someone who claimed so vociferously on iLL Manors that, “There’s no such thing as Broken Britain”. Broken Britain or not, there’s a danger of Plan B becoming a broken record, and this feels like the kind of thing middle-class people would like as some kind of ghetto tourism fad rather than anything insightful or profound. 3/10
In the UK at least, Ciara has been very quiet over the past few years. In fact, it was something of a surprise to me to learn she was still going, but the fact this video has well over ten million views on YouTube shows just how firmly my finger’s on the pulse. Sorry is the kind of R&B break-up ballad that was practically unavoidable a decade or so ago, and brings practically nothing new to the form. Aside from comforting people who have been recently dumped, jilted or just plain old turned down, it’s difficult to know what this song is actually for. It’s so lightweight and wispy it’s barely there, and Ciara’s voice has practically no character whatsoever. Over ten million YouTube views too. Why? Unless you were heartbroken as previously mentioned (or writing a slapdash weekly singles column) there’s no good reason to go and watch this video. Anger-inducing, syrupy fluff. 1/10
A closely fought battle between The xx and Lianne La Havas ends with Putney’s finest winning out. But what do you think? And, more importantly, have we missed something in Mumfords’ unit-shifting, awards-hoovering formula? Feedback is welcomed using the Disqus form below and we look forward to seeing you back here next week.3 December, 2012 - 19:48 — Joe Rivers