Mike Atkinson

Stylus Singles Jukebox, 9th May 2005

Posted in singles reviews, Stylus by Mike A on May 9, 2005

Doves – Snowden

As someone who normally runs a mile from anything so avowedly Big and Important, I am at a loss to articulate exactly why the widescreen, windswept cragginess of the Doves gets through to me, where all the others fall by the wayside. I suppose it must be something to do with their intuitive grasp of dynamics, and the particular ways they find to shape their sound, and I suppose that this might have something to do with their background in studio-based dance music, as opposed to the usual gigging circuit. Whatever it is, this is as gloriously sweeping and epic as ever, with a swooshing synth motif that puts me in mind of late 1970s Genesis. But in a good way. (8)

The Futureheads – Decent Days And Nights

Having originally found their debut album a little hard to take in one sitting, I’m now loving The Futureheads as a singles act. Separated from its slightly too samey surroundings, this takes on a whole new potency, making me wish that I’d come to all of the band’s material in the same way. Best of all – and just when you thought that the mathematical combinations had all been exhausted for good – there’s the return of our old friend, the Two Chord Killer Riff. Add this to an naggingly catchy tune and some fetching call-and-response harmonies, and you have yourself a dinky little slice of skinny-tied, knotty-browed, twitchy-kneed, punky-pop perfection. (9)

The Game ft 50 Cent – Hate It Or Love It

Oh Gawd, don’t tell me I’ve got to unravel another of those Big Hip Hop Feud back-stories, before I can begin to form a proper appreciation of the track? Because my head’s still hurting from having to deconstruct “Like Toy Soldiers”, and I just can’t go through all of that again. So, yeah, I dare say that this reconciliation between the two formerly warring parties (have I at least got that bit right?) is all immensely Significant and stuff – but to me it just sounds like routine biggin-up-me-dick braggadocio, set over a rather fetching Stax-style sample whose easy melodicism sits rather at odds with all the wearisome aggression on display. (5)

Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.

Tell me, have you ever met anyone who actually gets the Gorillaz? Who is charmed by the concept, and enthralled by the genre-defying blend of styles, signs and signifiers? Who can barely wait for the new album to drop? No, me neither. I fundamentally do not get them, on any level. One reasonably jolly single a few years ago, that seven-year olds liked to jump and down to, and that was it for me. As for everything else, it just sounds like loads of bits and pieces all shoved together, that were never meant to be shoved together. Like snail porridge. Or bacon and egg ice-cream. (Does this make Damon Albarn the Heston Blumenthal of post-modernist pop?) (5)

Daryl Hall & John Oates – I’ll Be Around

Critical objectivity be damned: the long dormant flick-wedge white-socks-n-loafers soul boy within me is fucking digging on this, mate. Taken from a covers album of mainly early 1970s soul classics which is supposed to “shed light on their formative influences” (if you say so, boys), this beautifully sung, sumptuously constructed, painstakingly respectful re-working of the old Detroit Spinners hit adds/subtracts precisely zero to/from our appreciation of the original, and could therefore easily be dismissed as high-class cabaret, but, you know, so bloody what? It entertains me, and even moves me a little, and sometimes that’s all you need. (8)

Juliette & The Licks – You’re Speaking My Language

Now listen up, Missy Lewis, and listen good. So we think we’re channelling the spirit of Courtney Love, do we? Extending the franchise and building the brand, are we? Well, I’ve got a little list for you. Bruce Willis. Keanu Reeves. Minnie Driver. Robert Downey Junior. It never works, does it? Never. Not ever. So what makes you think you’re going to buck the trend all of a sudden? You might want to take that thought back to your “people”. Yes, run along now. No, give me the mike. We’ve suffered enough. (1)


Lemon Jelly – Make Things Right

This is the aural equivalent of stepping out of a nice warm bath, wrapping yourself in a big white fluffy bath towel (freshly laundered, with proper fabric conditioner and everything, straight from your mother’s airing cupboard), and hugging yourself tightly, while a reassuring voice inside your head tells you that yes, everything really is going to be OK. Except, that is, for an unexpected section towards the end, where all the steadily accumulated, softly undulating layers of bliss drop sharply away, exposing a dark pit of anxiety beneath. The way that you are gently steered away from this pit, and led back into the sunlit uplands above, makes the final restatement of the central melodic motifs all the more life-affirming. (And you thought Lemon Jelly were just a clever-clever chill-out turn for the post-clubbing urban bourgeoisie?) (9)

Kelly Osbourne – One Word

An almost note-for-note rewrite of Visage’s “Fade To Grey” – complete with an impenetrably po-faced new lyric, and lashings of suitably “arty” (if equally incomprehensible) mutterings in yer actual French – which, rather like pouty-faced strop-pot Miss Osbourne herself, manages to be both utterly preposterous and strangely captivating at the same time. (But Kelly, all those synths! And not a guitar in sight! We thought you wuz a Rebel Rockah! Are you trying to break your poor father’s heart?) (7)

Praise Cats ft Andrea Love – Shined On Me

What, this old thing? Really, hasn’t it been out before? I mean, I barely even go out clubbing any more, and even I know this one. And I bet you do too. Yes you do – it’s the happy-clappy gospelly one, with the early 1990s hollering disco diva, which goes “I’ve got peace, deep in my soul, I’ve got lurrrrve, making me whole, since you opened up your heart and shined (sic) on me”, over and over and over again. Yeah, right, that one. I know! Whiskers on it or what! Anyway, it’s a pleasant if slight confection, more of a steady repeated groove than anything else, with no melodic or rhythmic development to speak of, but with some nifty bass runs and jazzy organ licks along the way to stop boredom from setting in. (Is it time for the fluffy bras/silver trousers handbag house revival yet, by the way? Oh come on, why not?) (6)

Cliff Richard – What Car

Suffering Stratocasters, what fresh folly is this? Recorded in Nashville for added “authenticity”, this bizarre country-rockin’ attempt to connect with the Uncut-reading Sounds Of The New West constituency has cheeky Sir Cliff regaling us with a story (dragged out to the point of tedium) of “borrowing” his Daddy’s car behind his back in order to impress a girl, wrecking the car by crashing it into a tree, absconding from the scene of the accident, and then cheerfully denying all knowledge of it – all delivered with an extended “haven’t I been a naughty boy?” wink to the audience. But oh, Cliff! What kind of example are you setting today’s impressionable Saga generation? Stealing? From your own dear, sweet silver-haired father? Showing off, presumably for nefarious purposes? Driving without due care and attention? Being the cause of a serious road incident, and failing to report it to the proper authorities? Then, worst of all, lying about it? And getting away with it? And then boasting to us about it? Whatever happened to “Honour thy Father and Mother”, Cliff? If we can’t look to you for moral guidance any more, then truly we are lost as a nation. Repent! Repent! (4)

System Of A Down – BYOB

Difficult as it is to offer meaningful commentary on a genre from which I feel so culturally and generationally disconnected (are we even supposed to be calling this stuff “nu-metal” these days?), repeated listens find me swiftly progressing from lughole-covering bafflement, to a fond respect which teeters on the brink of outright pleasure. One of the major barriers to be crossed with stuff like this is the need to adjust to an altogether different level of musical/emotional intensity. As with hardcore techno, what initially sounds like an unsustainably full-tilt extreme is in fact the norm. If you relax and accept it as such, and let it welcome rather than intimidate you, then there is plenty to observe, admire and ultimately enjoy. Just don’t make me sit through a whole album of it, that’s all. (I am old. It wouldn’t be right.) (7)

KT Tunstall – Other Side Of The World

There’s some convoluted metaphor going on here about icebergs, and water, and melting, and distance, and… well, I’m fucked if I can make any sense out of it, to be honest. Take the meaning away, and you’re left with a rather insipid piece of soft-rocking AOR balladry, that would doubtless fit in nicely between Shawn Colvin and Dido on Radio 2’s “drivetime” slot. (Corks, it’s all a bit Adult Contemporary this week, isn’t it? Has the supply of post-punk influenced NME guitar bands finally run dry?) (4)

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