Mike Atkinson

Stylus Singles Jukebox, 25th April 2005

Posted in singles reviews, Stylus by Mike A on April 25, 2005

Athlete – Half Light

Oh, Athlete: I came not to praise but to bury you, with your shining-eyed Christian-rock sincerity, and your I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Coldplay one-chord guitar chops, and your corporate-indie latter-day-Travis don’t-rock-the-boat nice-to-be-niceness, and your encapsulation of everything I thought I opposed with every fibre of my being… but then, BUT THEN, you have the bare-faced TEMERITY to come out with this thoughtfully crafted, deftly honed little gem of a single, with all sorts of pleasing little twists and turns and counterpoints and dissonances and smile-inducing moments along the way, and before you know it I’ve crossed this sort of invisible line and I find myself LOVING it, quite despite myself, and I can ABSOLUTELY picture this as soundtracking this year’s six-in-the-evening second-stage-at-Glastonbury defining moment that will see your album in the Top Five within the week, and… well… do NOT let this happen again, or there will be CONSEQUENCES, do you hear? (9)

Battle – Isabelle 

“Isabelle, you know me Isabelle, please don’t te-e-e-ell, on me.” Sorry, but that’s such a risibly crap way of starting a song that I can’t get very far beyond it. Lads! Have you ever had one of those auto-erotic episodes where you realise too late that you’re not actually in the mood at all, but you’re not going to give up either, and so you screw your eyes together and speed the action right up, in the hope that by simulating the frenzy of passion you’ll somehow fool your nervous system into thinking it’s genuine? No, me neither. But listening to this over-wrought but under-thought indie-boy bluster, I am at least afforded some sort of insight as to what it might feel like. (4)

Black Rock ft Debra Andrew – Blue Water

I know the weather’s been picking up a bit recently, but isn’t it still a bit early to be releasing sun-drenched Ibiza Anthems? Or maybe this is just designed to get you in a suitably anticipatory frame of mind, before you make that trip to the travel agents. Going anywhere nice this year? (5)

Clor – Love And Pain

“Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, you look a little lost and found.” Oh, this will do nicely. Warmly inviting, readily accessible, with the sort of XTC/Futureheads/Dogs Die In Hot Cars skinny-tied quirky-modern power-pop angularity that has yet to ossify into cliché (although I can feel that particular drawbridge being pulled up even as I type), this does its darndest to prompt me into saying “file under: promising” for the second week running. Resist! Resist! (8)

Destiny’s Child – Girl 

After two distressingly shit singles in a row, DC stage a welcome and spectacular return to form with this deliciously melodic, eminently believable, sisters-stand-together, take-it-from-me-he’s-a-bastard, you-KNOW-you-deserve-better, have-another-bite-of-cheesecake-and-let-it-all-out-girlfriend co-counselling session. Yes, of COURSE they’re all sitting round a lunch table in a swishy metropolitan eaterie in the video, in an overt homage to Sex And The City. What did you expect? Burger King? (8)

Helen Love – Debbie Loves Joey

“She was Debbie Harry, and he was Joey Ramone.” Ah, bless. An irrepressibly jaunty, irresistibly catchy retro-punky-poppy novelty ditty (suspiciously well enunciated, it has to be said), to which only the dourest anti-fun curmudgeon could form any meaningful objection. (7)

Le Tigre – After Dark

Never mind all this talk of early 1980s revivalism – more and more, I’m picking up strains of early Britpop in the air. Specifically Blur – and in this case, specifically “Girls And Boys”, whose chugging electro-pop dynamic is inescapably evoked throughout. This is slighter and poppier than the shouty didacticism which I know and like the best – and if its a stab at cracking the charts, then it’s doomed to failure – but having seen them play possibly the best small club gig I have ever witnessed, I can still forgive Le Tigre just about anything. (6)

Ludacris – Number One Slot

Yes! That’s much more like it! In stark contrast to the half-hearted mumblers of the last few weeks, there’s a refreshing vigour on display here, as Ludacris declaims with bombastic good humour over an inventive, jerkily staccato cut-up rhythm which will wrong-foot all but the slickest of movers. (7)

Mortiis – Decadent & Desperate

Huh? But I didn’t think they allowed proper card-carrying Death Metallers to use synths and drum machines? I dunno, first Nine Inch Nails go pop, and now this. Is nothing sacred? HERETICS! BURN THEM! BURN THEM FOR THEIR EVIL LIMP-WRISTED PRODIGY-INFLUENCED REVISIONISM! WE MUST STOP THIS CANCER! (5)

Raw Bud vs Roni Size – Rise Up! (The Punk Rock Anti-Mix)

Raw ragga toasting (from Sweetie Irie) PLUS clattering junglist drum patterns PLUS squalling rock guitar thrash EQUALS – well, one unholy racket if I’m being honest. “Ten out of ten for sheer exuberance and energy”, as my jolly old music teacher might have said in one of his more charitable moods – but I’m deducting five points for the recuperative Nurofen afterwards. One question remains: who exactly is this being aimed at? The thrash-rockers will take against the ragga; the junglists and ragga-heads will take against the thrash-rock; so who’s left standing? (5)

Rooster – You’re So Right For Me

Clean-cut boyband pop in 1974 hairy boogie-rock drag, and about as convincing as Melanie C in a Motorhead T-shirt – but proficiently done, and not without a certain redeeming sense of spirit and purpose. (Warning to well-meaning dads everywhere: this is NOT a cue for you to get your Thin Lizzy albums down from the attic. Your kids still won’t thank you for it.) (6)

Snoop Dogg ft Justin Timberlake – Signs

Ooh, Justin says “fuck”! Every single time I hear the opening bars of this sharp, sassy, slinky, sexy, immaculately funky piece of star-spangled disco-pop heaven, the sun comes out and the world instantly feels like a better place. Having been all over everywhere for the past God knows how many weeks, this already feels like a huge hit – and if it doesn’t dislodge Tony Christie after six weeks at Number One, then nothing else will. (10)

The Tears – Refugees

One of the great qualities of those early Suede singles was a sense of necessity – that somehow, they had to be made. There’s a sense of necessity here, too – but it stems not from youthful urgency, but from a tangible sense of mid-life desperation. For what else is there left for Anderson and Butler to do, other than stage that longed-for reunion, with its attendant promise of a return (for all concerned) to the glory days of 1993? Thus it is that “Refugees” dutifully reprises all the key elements of the classic Suede sound, in a proficient, workmanlike manner. And yes: Anderson hits the usual notes, and Butler trots out some of his characteristically tasty licks, and there’s a suitably anthemic quality to the proceedings – but I just don’t buy any of it, not for one moment. This is a pragmatic re-marriage of convenience, between two people who have merely swallowed hard and formed an acceptable working accommodation with each other – but without that crucial synergy, borne out of tension and friction, that has fuelled some of this country’s greatest songwriting partnerships, The Tears are doomed merely to create elegant but hollow facsimiles of their shared past. (6)

Stylus Singles Jukebox, 18th April 2005

Posted in singles reviews, Stylus by Mike A on April 18, 2005

Bodyrockers – I Like The Way

Sporting a central rock guitar riff that is doubtless as close to Deep Dish’s “Flashdance” as highly paid teams of international copyright lawyers will allow, “I Like To Move” has all of the workmanlike insistence of “So Much Love To Give” by The Freeloaders, without any of the latter’s redeeming sense of breezy joy. Indeed, its brutal effectiveness as a motivational blunt instrument for those who have been denied the benefits of a broader musical diet suggests to me that the Bodyrockers are nothing less than the Turkey Twizzlers of dance. (It’s no use trying to wean them onto nice, healthy, organic “microhouse” either; there’ll be rioting in the streets before chucking-out time.) (6)

The Caesars – Jerk It Out

“The song you’ve heard everywhere”, according to the press advert – and indeed, there is something here which makes you feel as if it has been around forever. Every Friday and Saturday night over the next couple of months or so, student DJs across the country will be cueing this up next to The Bees’ “Chicken Payback”, against which it sits perfectly: there’s the same uncannily accurate 1960s retro feelgood vibe (augmented here with a nagging organ refrain), combined with the same late 1990s Big Beat sensibility (I’m guessing this is particularly big in Brighton). With no supporting album to promote, this looks set to hang around the singles chart for yonks – particularly once the nostalgic Dad download demographic gets hold of it. (8)

Chemical Brothers ft Kele Okereke – Believe

Everything else in this week’s list is Product; this alone qualifies as Art. I’m a particular sucker for the agreeably deranged bloops and blarps that sit above the rest of the music: melodically and sonically separate, but oddly complementary, in much the same way as on the comparatively restrained “Negotiate With Love”. A thundering juggernaut of a track, this plays to the Chemical Brothers’ traditional strengths. It therefore succeeds where the brave-yet-flawed attempt at mould-breaking that was “Galvanize” fails. (9)

Editors – Munich

My old English teacher always maintained that the best way to form a picture of the cultural pre-occupations of any age was to study its second-rate art – for just as first-rate art transcends its age, predicting movements which are yet to come, so second-rate art remains firmly mired in its own times, mirroring the predominant influences of the day. In which case, might I suggest that space be cleared in the 2005 time capsule for the Editors: a band with such a seemingly foreshortened sense of history that it wouldn’t surprise me if Bloc Party and The Bravery were cited as major formative figures. Having said that, there’s a nice piece of chiming, high-register, almost bouzouki-like guitar work accompanying the choruses, which lifts this marginally above the quotidian. In a disappointingly thin week such as this, such small mercies are to be gratefully seized upon. (6)

Hard-Fi – Tied Up Too Tight

The latest adherents to the age-old English tradition of disaffected petit-bourgeois youths from the suburbs (in this case, Staines in Middlesex) casting beady, aspirational eyes over at the glamour, grit and grime of the big city, Hard-Fi have – almost inevitably – caused the requisite “buzz” at this year’s SXSW festival, and now stand poised with studied faux-ennui at the threshold of success and excess, veneration and ruin. There’s an anthemic quality to this which puts me in mind of 1993-era Blur in their 1966-era Kinks phase, as well as a tantalising snatch of piano towards the end which would have evoked the glories of Jools Holland on The The’s “Uncertain Smile”, had it been mixed a little higher and allowed to go on for a little longer. I think everybody should be allowed to say this once, without fear of redress: file under “promising”. Ooh, proper rock criticism! (7)

Ja Rule ft Lloyd – Caught Up

There’s something of the post-Kanye West about this stab at giving gruff ole Ja Rule a commercial crossover hit, by setting his guttural mutters against some sweet Eighties Groove soul stylings. Unfortunately, no-one seems to have been able to stir up must interest from Ja himself; almost relegated to a guest spot on his own record, he sounds distracted and disinterested. A couple of minutes in, and all the ideas have been used up; the rest is merely crank-it-out repetition. Nevertheless, by the end of the song – with all the vocalists having packed up and knocked off early to beat the traffic – there’s something of a reprieve, as the backing track is given some space to gently unwind, in an almost dub-wise style. It’s the best bit by far. (But shush, no-one tell Ja. He has probably never listened that far. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him.) (5)

Kim Lian – Teenage Superstar 

Just as the title of Just Seventeen magazine indicated a readership with an average age of thirteen, so we can infer that any pop song with the word “teenage” in its title is being explicitly marketed to an audience of eleven and under. In this respect, the flame-haired Dutch-Indonesian popstrel and her Swedish production team have done a commendably efficient job; it is easy to imagine Kim Lian being daubed onto the backs of thousands of exercise books in multi-coloured “glitter effect” gel pen lettering between now and mid-July. An intoxicatingly cheerful playground-rebel anthem in the Joan Jett/Go-Go’s tradition, for those who still find The Faders a little too grown-up and threatening. (8)

Nine Inch Nails – The Hand That Feeds

For all of their mock-outraged accusations, Trent Reznor and the boys seem considerably less likely to “bite the hand the feeds you” than they are to seize it in both hands and cover it in a thousand eager smooches, so manifest is their desire to score a fratjock-pleasing MTV2-friendly hit with this piece of witless, desperate froth. Once upon a time, they wanted to be Jim Morrison fronting Ministry. Now they’ll just settle for being Fred Durst fronting Garbage. (3)

The Rakes – Retreat

WARNING: NME GUITAR BAND MEMORY BUFFER EXCEEDED. PLEASE REMOVE ONE OR MORE FROM DATABASE BEFORE PROCEEDING WITH REVIEW. (OK, so I’ll drag-and-drop The Others and The Subways to the recycling bin; that should clear some space.) ERROR: MAXIMUM NUMBER OF RECYCLING ATTEMPTS EXCEEDED. PLEASE SELECT SOMETHING LESS DERIVATIVE. Bah, got me there. Sorry, readers! (3)

Tegan & Sara – Walking With A Ghost

A potentially attractive Police-style loping rhythm is spoilt by a stiff, restrictive execution that begs for some fluidity and development. Meanwhile, several flights upstairs, there’s an aggravatingly strident and disconnected quality to the vocals, which doesn’t bode well for the future. (4)

Stylus Singles Jukebox, 4th April 2005

Posted in singles reviews, Stylus by Mike A on April 4, 2005

Natasha Bedingfield – I Bruise Easily

A glass of Jacobs Creek, a chick-lit paperback, an IKEA settee and thou: this explicit claim to the Dido demographic is staked out with undeniable care and attention. Sure, it’s all a bit of a beige wash, but in amongst the usual gentle acoustic strumming and ultra-lite trippity-hoppity pitter-pattering, there are some reasonably deft touches; I particularly like the soft squelching noise which runs all the way through, and the “ethereal” strings which lift the whole track up a notch or two for the last couple of minutes. However, there’s too much preening self-regard in Natasha’s performance for this ever to truly convince. (4)

The Bees – Chicken Payback 

Sounding exactly like the sort of rare Sixties soul cut that was routinely sampled by Big Beat acts in the late Nineties, this ludicrously infectious piece of animal-based call-and-response bubblegum could well be the best Kids’ Birthday Party floor-filler since “19/2000” by the Gorillaz. (Is there a dance routine? There has to be a dance routine. If not, then someone needs to invent one, quick.) My only concern is for the future welfare of The Bees; this is so far removed from their usual stoner-shuffle-blues repertoire that the assembled menagerie of chickens, camels and monkeys could morph into albatrosses overnight. (10)

Feeder – Feeling A Moment

About twenty-five years ago, the NME ran a major feature on bands whose names ended in the letters “er”, noting with amusement that (with the sole exception of Foreigner) none of them ever achieved any commercial or critical success, and thus establishing a clear link between the “-er” suffix and a particular kind of drearily under-achieving derivativeness. All of which leads me to conclude that, with their inexplicably popular brand of freeze-dried, vacuum-packed shopping-mall stadium-rock, Feeder must be the new Foreigner. It’s an achievement of sorts, right? (2)

Garbage – Why Do You Love Me

“I’m no Barbie doll / I’m not your baby girl”… no Shirley, you’re a GROWN WOMAN OF THIRTY-EIGHT, and all the kohl, slap and mini-dresses in the world aren’t going to change the fact. So instead of trying to pass yourself off as a petulant foot-stamping teen, why not try to nurture a little age-appropriate grace and dignity? Because some of us are still waiting for the proper follow-up to that wonderful debut album, before you were all replaced by the dead-eyed replicants who have been masquerading as you ever since. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that these are state-of-the-art, top-of-the-range replicants; there’s a brutal efficiency at work here, which comes tantalisingly close to being convincing. (6)

Elton John – Turn The Lights Out When You Leave

A deliciously defiant, venomous kiss-off to a no-good ex, served up with an easily rolling pedal-steel-and-honky-tonk saloon-bar swagger, that will unite newly jilted lovers everywhere in squiffily swaying, finger-pointing, ‘see-you-in-court-yer-bashtard’ solidarity. My only quibble is with the gender-restricting reference to the “lacy little dress”—as in every other respect, this song’s natural constituency is a female one. (8)

Kelis ft. Nas – In Public

“We can do it over there by all the trees,” breathes Kelis to her husband of almost three months’ standing, in an urgently insistent paean to al fresco jiggery-pokery which is sure to go down well with the steamed-up-windows-in-car-parks brigade. (But all within the context of a mutually supportive relationship based on openness and trust, naturally.) There has always been a fine line between the erotic and the ridiculous—but while the lumbering likes of 50 Cent blunder straight through it, Kelis (“sexy beast”) and “nasty Nas” straddle it with assured ease and control. (Dontcha just love it when married couples give each other pet names? My father used to call my mother “moo-cow”. How times have changed.) (8)

The Others – William

If I were thirteen years old, and not yet possessed of much in the way of historical context, then I would no doubt be immensely invigorated by the gleefully rough-and-ready snotty-brattishness contained herein. So just because I’m over three times that age, and have heard it all before, and can reel off influences and reference points until I’m blue in the face, that should in no way detract from what’s on offer. (They tried to pull the same superior trick on me with my Slade and T.Rex records; I wouldn’t have it then, so I won’t have it now.) In this spirit of cross-generational generosity, I must therefore concede that – precisely because it irritates me to distraction, the“ba ba ba-ba-ba baa, POWWW! refrain is actually the best part of the whole record. (6)

Vitalic – My Friend Dario

This is so achingly trendy that I scarcely dare to venture an opinion, lest I misinterpret a sub-nuance along the way and fall flat on my newly unfashionable low-slung arse. (High waists are back; haven’t you heard?) However, the word “motorik” does keep dancing before my eyes for some strange reason. It’s not a word we hear too often these days, is it? Well, let that be my contribution to the group. Dazed and Sleaze, please take note. (8)