Music Features

The Singles Bar - 5th December 2011

The pre-Christmas lull has definitely set-in at the Singles Bar. The big day is very much on the horizon, the decorations are up (even if it is just a couple of sad-looking bits of tinsel), and the final preparations are being made (Joe's got this week off to compile the No Ripcord end of the year list), but there's not that much happening as yet. With it being too early for the Christmas number one race, and arguably too late to encourage gift-buying sales boosts, there's a noticeable lack of Grade-A material on offer this week. As you're about to find out...


Snoop Dogg featuring Wiz Khalifa & Bruno Mars – Young, Wild & Free/T-Pain featuring Wiz Khalifa & Lily Allen – 5 O'Clock

There are some professional hazards of music criticism, even when you're not exactly a "pro", one being that it makes any gaps in your musical knowledge seem all the more embarrassing. I'm just going to go ahead and confess mine: I have no idea who Wiz Khalifa is, or how he managed to appear on two of this week's singles. 

The first, lifted from the soundtrack for a teen comedy is, thanks to Snoop's presence, very much unsurprisingly a pro-weed song. Despite that, it's about as far from offensive as it's possible to be, instead it could be said to have a pleasant bounciness to it; of course it helps that Bruno Mars was clearly too busy to contribute much. 7/10

Meanwhile, 5 O'Clock raises the question of why Lily Allen chose to come out retirement in order to work with pioneering auto-tune botherer T-Pain (it goes without saying that this track is completely smothered in it). It probably wasn't a wise idea on Pain's behalf to base the chorus around the line "The conversation got boring", as it makes critiquing the song far too easy. 3/10


Bryan Adams - Merry Christmas

The first of this week's seasonal offerings and I don't think you could find a more 'traditional' one than this. The combination of piano, sleigh bells and Adams' vocal drama is not one that I'm keen on, and I doubt it will appeal to many people under the age of 50 either, but I sort of appreciate its earnest old fashionedness3/10


Jason Derulo – Fight For You

I don't think Derulo's capable of being anything less than ridiculous, having only just managed to stop himself from shoehorning his name into the start of every song, he has instead turned his sights to creating some sort of mutant dance-hall version of Toto's Africa. Of course it's insane, and perhaps even unlistenable, but it's never actually boring. 4/10


Beyonce – Love On Top

After the relative commercial failure (y'know, by her usual standards) of the daring Countdown and the amazing Run The World (Girls), you can't really blame Ms Knowles for running straight back to her old comfort ground of the “sassy”, and “inspirational”. Yet this is so blandly sassy and inspirational that if this was the late 80s or early 90s it'd be playing over the end credits of a Whoopi Goldberg movie. The most interesting thing about it is the leotard and hat stolen from the corpse of Colonel Gadaffi combo she wears in the video. 5/10


The Vaccines – Wetsuit

With its Mumford and Sons harmonies and instagram-shot festival-set video, this couldn't be a more blatant piece of demographic-based attention grabbing if it tried. Well, other than if they'd bothered to attach it all to a decent melody, but I suppose that was too much to ask. Surely it's time to accept that the sheer amount of hype they received over the past year was misguided so we can all just move on. 4/10


Amy Winehouse - Our Day Will Come

I must admit that I was dreading this one slightly, not because I was never really a fan of Amy (although that's certainly true; the quality of her material rarely matched her voice, or, unfortunately, her persona), but rather because the thought of reviewing the last gasp of so young a talent seems both unbearably sad and impossible to even attempt to be 'objective' about. Although, within the first few seconds of Our Day Will Come that fear dissipated, thanks to its surprising breeziness. The song's easy listening origins are clear to see, but it's quite odd to hear her voice being quite so strong again. It may be quite unexceptional, and very short, but happily it's not an undignified send-off.  6/10


Caro Emerald - Stuck

One of the more unexpected outcomes of Amy Winehouse's jazz revival was it leading to a rise in overly-theatrical women pinning their hair up, hooking up with big bands and pretending it was the 1940s (which I suppose is quite fitting for the feeling of post-war austerity that we're all currently experiencing). So Caro Emerald is essentially a facsimile of a facsimile of a facsimile, although Stuck does have a certain charm that's best described as "jaunty". 5/10


Fixers - Majesties Ranch

If you're going to rip-off the sound of a band, you might as well go for the best, which might explain why Oxford-based Fixers have gone all Beach Boys on Majesties Ranch. It does offer a much needed shot of fizz amongst this week's mostly-dreary offerings, but they should probably think about removing the "Experimental Psychedelic-Pop group" description from their wikipedia page. 7/10


Coldplay - Christmas Lights

As if attempting to ruin last Christmas with this bilge wasn't enough, the wettest guys in stadium rock have decided to re-release it this year too. Even by the sappy standards of most Christmas songs (and I am somebody who likes them in general) this is unbearable. As is the half-hearted attempt to launch a "gather round the joanna" cockney singalong at the end. 2/10


Matt Cardle – Starlight

Reviewing X-Factor contestants' singles is very much like shooting fish in a barrel, but somebody's got to do it (and unfortunately I have to do it twice this week). 

It's not that they're normally even that bad, but their continuing lack of ambition never fails to disappoint. In Cardle's case, this means that his earnest, sensitive soft-rock doesn't even aspire to imitate Coldplay, but rather Snow Patrol's lazy attempt to cash-in on their popularity (as is made painfully clear by the Run-aping video, weirdly filmed amongst a bunch of shipping containers, suggesting that Cardle's filmed this in a break from his day-job). 3/10


Rebecca Ferguson - Nothing's Real But Love

The advert for the debut album by Rebecca Ferguson - the runner up to Cardle last year - describes her as "The voice of 2012", which is ironic considering she's merely one of the hoard following in the footsteps of Winehouse, and really that's being charitable: she's actually more Joss Stone.

That aside, the girl has talent, but the song's another one of those tedious power ballads that essentially finished off Stone's career. I don't think that it's being unnecessarily harsh to say that hers will probably be even shorter.  2/10


Katy Perry – The One That Got Away

It's the one in which Perry dons the most unconvincing ageing make-up seen since that which graced Ray Liotta's face in the drug smuggling biopic/Johnny Depp vehicle Blow for the video. I was convinced that this came out ages ago, but apparently it didn't; although I suppose that says a lot about the lack of excitement greeting the release of most singles now. 

In general Perry's not a bad pop star – she clearly has a sense of humour and a healthy taste for the absurd, but she's never been able to pull-off the slow, dramatic number no matter how hard she tried, and she doesn't do it here either. 5/10


James Morrison featuring Jessie J - Up

Has there ever been as unappealing a combination of musicians as this? Somehow Up manages to be both drearily saccharine and irritatingly brassy at the same time, although, to give it some credit, the string section is quite nice. 1/10


Nicki Minaj – I'm The Best

Apparently this is the 9th(!) single from Ms Minaj's debut, and oddly it comes two months before her next album is due out. Of course this means that precisely everything that needed to be said about it has been said a long time ago. But if you really need me to describe it, its loudmouthed braggadocio that's not quite as adorable or clever as it thinks it is (it's not too far off though). 6/10


Aidan John Moffat - Oh! What A Not So Silent Night Before Christmas EP

Considering his carefully cultivated miserable misanthropic image, Aidan Moffat surprisingly seems to have a bit of a track record with Christmas songs. This year's effort is, after the lushness of Everything's Getting Older, firmly back in his old stamping grounds of the ragged and low key as he reads a filthy tale about a drunken Santa over a karaoke version of The Four Seasons' Oh What A Night (so, you can't accuse the title of being misrepresentative). In other words it's essentially a novelty Christmas record, recorded in the most lo-fi manner imaginable. Not that there's anything wrong with that. 7/10    


Little Roy – Lithium

Even though it's been conclusively proved to not be the case, every time I come across Little Roy's album of reggaefied Nirvana covers I am convinced that it's intended as something of a joke. Honestly Lithium would probably have worked better if he had approached it that way, as his underselling of the song's iconic chorus is quite frustrating. The transposing of the intro to brass works well though. 6/10


Christina Perri – A Thousand Years

Remember piano-based balladeer Vanessa Carlton, once described by Radio One as Dawson's Creek in musical form? Christina Perri certainly does, and probably hopes that you don't so that her blatant style-copping goes unnoticed. A Thousand Years (even the title's an almost Carlton-alike) is taken from the latest Twilight soundtrack, which probably tells you all you need to know about it: it's aimed squarely at hormonal girls and is melodramatic in that special way that only their idea of romance can be, but, that being said, it ultimately isn't that bad. 5/10


Lloyd featuring Andre 3000 & Lil Wayne - Dedication To My Ex

Dedication To My Ex is notable for a couple of reasons; it marks the return of Andre 3000 after what seems like too long away (although, admittedly, this reveals another one of my embarrassing lapses in musical knowledge as a quick look on wikipedia shows that he's hardly been a recluse over the past few years), and it features what might be the most uses of the word "pussy" outside of Prince's back catalogue. The most important thing is that, even though Andre sounds like he's barely trying, he's still absolutely amazing. 6/10


Childish Gambino - Bonfire

Considering Donald Glover used to write for 30 Rock you'd think that he'd be able to avoid slipping into the regrettable hip-hop cliche of blatant misogyny. His Childish Gambino persona is nothing much more than an Odd Future-style attempt to shock, but at least he's also noticed the importance of their amusing self-awareness, and that of an incredible backing track; Bonfire's consisting almost entirely of brutal, primitive yells. His shtick might get a bit tiresome over the course of an album, but it's great for the odd song. 8/10 - SINGLE OF THE WEEK    


Lady Gaga - Marry The Night

Right from the get-go Gaga hasn't done herself many favours with Born This Way, although arguably the most misguided decision has been the choice of singles as Marry The Night should have been released at least two songs ago. The 13 minute self-directed video is an artistic folly too far but the hi-NRG histrionics do serve as an excellent reminder that when Gaga's on form, there's no-one quite so brilliantly ludicrous working today. 8/10


So that's it for another week. Of course it's a shame that it's been a bit of an uninspiring line-up, but with the influx of Christmas number one contenders about to hit us, we'll probably come to look back on this relative calm with a sense of fondness.