Music Features

The Singles Bar - 6th February 2012

As the Singles Bar makes its way into February, it’s interesting to note the juxtaposition between old and new in this week’s selection. Madonna, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney all crop up below, but we also have new kids on the block, Friends, and 23-year-old rapper, Big Sean. Does this prove anything in particular? Maybe not, but we’ll see if the old guard can still do it faced with the latest crop of young pretenders.

Childish Gambino – All The Shine

I can’t help but think Childish Gambino is a kind of endearing nickname a parent would give to their mischievous offspring. Anyway, All The Shine starts with simple beats, a repeated “yeah”, and a guitar solo that sounds like it’s being played in another room. Then the rap comes in, and it’s cuss-laden, aggressive and the kind of thing record companies normally prevent artists from releasing as singles. The verses have an imperious feel like Kanye West’s Jesus Walks, but the chorus removes the anger and tension by being a bit too straightforward. There’s a wince-inducing reference to Mumford & Sons at one point too – ouch. Overall, All The Shine comes across as a little melodramatic and, while a decent track, Childish Gambino doesn’t quite have the acumen to hold it all together. 6/10

J Mascis – Circle

Despite J Mascis having been around for years, double-tracked, reedy vocals over an acoustic backing now immediately make you think of Bon Iver. Whether you like Circle or not will largely depend on your opinion of Mascis’ voice. This track is simply guitar, vocals and a thin synth line, so a lot of your attention will be drawn to Mascis’ cracked, self-pitying drawl. Circle suggests J Mascis hasn’t moved on too much from Dinosaur Jr.’s heyday, as this could have conceivably been released in the early 90s and rivalled The Lemonheads’ Into Your Arms. It’s a simple, unadorned song which isn’t going to set the world alight but, as a way to pass three minutes or so, it’s really rather lovely. 7/10

Friends – Friend Crush

Since discovering Friends via an article I wrote on critics’ tips for 2012, I’ve been playing last single, I’m His Girl, an awful lot. They’re a band I’m really excited about and capable of great things, which is why it’s hard not to feel a little let down by Friend Crush. It’s still a great track, but there’s little of the zip and invention on display that sets them apart on their other work. The vocals seem a little disinterested and the synth line is very MGMT. The core ingredients of Friends are still there; it’s a lean production with no superfluous embellishments and there’s a slight funk swagger to it, but it’s just a little lacklustre. It’s all relative though, and Friend Crush is still a darn sight better than most tracks you’ll hear. 7/10

Madonna feat. Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. – Give Me All Your Luvin’

Madonna’s indefatigable longevity means she’s now getting begrudging applause from even the hardiest of cockroaches (or at least, she would be if they had the requisite motor skills… and the inclination… and an understanding of human customs… ok, that’s a terrible analogy). Anyway, she’s somehow got a knack of coming up with absolutely belting lead singles and Give Me All Your Luvin’ is no exception. This is despite the fact there are numerous flaws with the song. The production isn’t beefy enough, Nicki Minaj’s rap is too self-serving, the slower section rids the song of all the momentum it had built up, M.I.A.’s contribution is largely forgettable – yet somehow we’re left with something ridiculously catchy and utterly addictive. Madonna’s not setting a ground-breaking agenda with this song, but neither is she following the crowd with a slice of Euro-trance pop. She remains a force to be reckoned with and – as the Superbowl show proved – Give Me All Your Luvin’ is fit to go toe-to-toe with her finest moments. I’m not always a fan, but on this occasion I L-U-V Madonna. 8/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK

Kelly Rowland feat. Big Sean – Lay It On Me

While Madonna may not be following the crowd, one solo artist who certainly does cling desperately to the shifting zeitgeist is Kelly Rowland. Lay It On Me is a tired slab of dance-pop which could be by just about anyone. As with Down For Whatever, Rowland demonstrates that she simply can’t play the smouldering siren, as she displays about as much personality and erotic appeal as a wicker basket. The plot – should you care – is that Kelly Rowland is in the mood for some form of loving, and Big Sean is (as well as being a terrible rapper) a ladies’ man of some repute, who has just the skills to ensure Ms. Rowland won’t be disappointed. It’s as convincing as James Murdoch’s protestations of innocence in the Leveson Inquiry though, and just as disheartening. 1/10

Paul McCartney – My Valentine

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Paul McCartney’s new album is called Kisses On The Bottom. Yes, I know. We can now move onto this track. McCartney’s in a no-win situation, really. His canon of work is unsurpassable, plus he’s been without his songwriting partner-in-crime (and, crucially, the man who would curb his more sentimental instincts) for over three decades now. My Valentine is a pretty ballad which contains several chord changes which are unmistakeably McCartney, plus a tasteful Spanish guitar solo. However, it’s also far too syrupy and cloying – both lyrically and musically – and, as such, is an unessential track. It’d be too easy to go down the “Why does McCartney still bother?” route – especially when if anyone has earned the right to do what he chuffing well likes, it’s Sir Wacky Macca Thumbs-a-Loft – but you can’t help but feel the world wouldn’t have been particularly different if this track hadn’t been made. 4/10

M83 – Reunion

Only someone with a heart of stone wouldn’t be delighted that M83’s Midnight City is currently enjoying its fifth week in the UK singles chart. Like that track, Reunion owes a heavy debt to slick, over-produced pop of the 1980s. M83 may be an incredibly popular group with the tastemaking blogosphere, but that doesn’t mean they don’t sound like Duran Duran. In fact, if they weren’t several albums into their career, this could all come across as some exceptionally trendy, arch in-joke. However, the reason those pop hits this track recalls have endured is because of the quality of the songwriting, and Reunion luckily taps into that tradition too. There are warm layers of synth, a singalong chorus, and a commanding bassline to propel the track forwards. Joyful, uplifting stuff, and you shouldn’t care less that it doesn’t contain even the slightest hint of originality. 8/10

Kelly Clarkson – Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)

Oh good, the usual Kelly Clarkson, throw-everything-in, you’ve-wronged-me-but-I’ll-get-over-it, I-Will-Survive-lite, Pro-Tooled-to-death, self-obsessed, about-as-inspiring-as-Athlete’s-Foot nonsense that Christina Aguilera used to release about a decade ago. I listened to this all the way through. It didn’t kill me, yet I feel significantly weaker, in mind, body and spirit. Thus, as well as being relentlessly terrible, it’s also factually inaccurate. 0/10 feat. Mick Jagger and Jennifer Lopez – T.H.E (The Hardest Ever)

Having endured Kelly Clarkson, this wasn’t exactly what I was looking for to provide some kind of respite. As anyone with even one functioning ear knows, is a musical abomination who should be the subject of a restraining order from every recording studio in the world. To start with, the vocal is auto-tuned so heavily it’s genuinely uncomfortable to listen to. As far as the music goes, it sounds exactly as you’d expect a song to sound in 2012, i.e., like Black Eyed Peas with a smidgen of David Guetta thrown in while raps some old toss about how great the track is. Two-thirds of the way through, it morphs into a marginally different, faster track, then Mick Jagger makes his entrance and claims he’s “hard like geometry and trigonometry”. God knows what he’s doing on this track; it’s enough to make you want to throw all your Rolling Stones records out of the window. The fact thousands and thousands of years of human achievement and progress have led to this moment makes me want to take a vow of silence and live in a kibbutz and OH I GET IT NOW HIS STAGE NAME IS A PUN ON HIS REAL NAME OF WILLIAM THAT’S HILARIOUS LOLOLOLOLOLOL !!1!!12!!1! *throws self off Mount Everest*. 0/10

Atom Eye – Trilogy 120 Part 1

After that track, I am incredibly grateful for Atom Eye. Trilogy 120 Part 1 is the first of a – you’ve guessed it – three-part project, where each section will be released as a separate EP. From the off, this is dark and atmospheric. The beats lurch cumbersomely from bar to bar, like the walk of an elephant, and a repeated piano motif ratchets up the tension. There’s a filmic quality to Trilogy 120 Part 1, and it builds superbly into something quite unsettling. We rarely tackle the ambient stuff here at The Singles Bar but this is a thing of wonder. As the track progresses, African rhythms enter the mix, and there are expertly-employed hints of granular synthesis sprinkled in too. If this were to be used in cinema, it would soundtrack the build-up to the kind of awful event it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from. Then, it fades away, leaving just a low-level drone and a feeling of exhaustion. This isn’t the kind of track you’d want to listen to on a regular basis but as a stand-alone mood piece, it’s hard to fault. 8/10

A close run thing between three very different tracks for this week’s prize, but did the best song win? Let us know what you think using the Disqus feedback form below.