Mike Atkinson

Stylus Singles Jukebox, 16th May 2005

Posted in singles reviews, Stylus by Mike A on May 16, 2005

Antony & The Johnsons – Hope There’s Someone

A brave but bewildering choice of single from the I Am A Bird Now album, as it would have made more commercial sense to have gone with the deep Southern soul of “Fistful Of Love”, rather than this challenging performance piece for solo piano and voice. Starting out as a tenderly yearning, relatively conventional bedtime prayer, this departs from any recognisable song structure about halfway through, as Antony pounds out repeated and intensifying block chords on the piano, while ghostly layers of echoed vocals emerge in the background. The effect is unsettling, and will irritate as least as many as it enchants. The same applies for Antony’s unmistakable alto warble, which evokes comparisons with both Nina Simone and early 1970s Bryan Ferry, whilst simultaneously sounding like no other singer on this earth. There’s no doubt that you have to cross a line with this music – but it’s a line which should be crossed. (8)

Black Eyed Peas – Don’t Phunk With My Heart

Just as Jamiroquai has achieved massive success by playing jazz-funk to people who don’t like jazz-funk, so the Black Eyed Peas have pulled off the same trick with their all-conquering brand of hollowed out, de-funked, slickly ornamented, stadium-friendly hip-hop lite. It’s difficult to put my finger on what irritates me the most. Maybe it’s the constant boggle-eyed mugging to camera; maybe it’s the gruesomely euphemistic deployment of the word “phunk”; maybe it’s the wholesale desecration of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s 1985 classic “I Wonder If I Take You Home”. All I know for certain is that I am actively looking forward to never having to hear this again. (2)

Gadjo – So Many Times

Summery, uplifting vocal house for the smart-casual set, with Latin-influenced piano and percussion, that will probably find its way onto one of those Hed Kandi compilations before too long. Pleasant enough, but nothing that Masters At Work weren’t doing ten times better ten years ago. (5)

Max Graham vs Yes – Owner Of A Lonely Heart

Mmph, I’m calming down about this a bit now. Not quite the sacrilege which it first seemed to be, this is a reasonably sympathetic grafting of a rhythm track onto Yes’s Trevor Horn-produced 1983 hit, which you sense has been done by someone with some modicum of respect for the original. (Indeed, Graham has been quoted as saying that “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” is his favourite track of all time, hence this “tribute”.) There’s not much more to it other than some looping of the main guitar riff, which fits right into the Deep Dish/Bodyrockers idiom of the day, and a couple of extended bridge/breakdown sections. Actually, it’s the first of these two breakdowns which I take exception to: building the tension up and up and up, leading you to think that something really exciting is going to happen, and then… oh, it’s the second verse. Bit of a waste, really. (6)

Hot Hot Heat – Goodnight Goodnight

The best defence you can make of Hot Hot Heat’s take on late 1970s skinny-tied power pop revivalism (oh, stifle those yawns) is that, having staked their claim a couple of years ahead of the pack, there is at least some vague sense of entitlement. Godfathers of the genre, or something. So let’s try and be nice. This is cheeky and snappy and snotty and radio-friendly, with a winning melody and a nice organ sound, and it’s all over quite quickly. Let it never be said that the Stylus UK Singles Jukebox hive-mind would ever discriminate against melodic guitar-based pop. (6)

Javine – Touch My Fire

With the strongest British Eurovision entry since Imaani’s “Where Are You” in 1998, only two obstacles stand in the way of Our Javine (formerly Poor Javine) and total victory in Kiev on Saturday night. Firstly: ancient Eurovision Anorak Lore dictates that no song drawn in second position on the night will ever go on to win the contest. (The “position of doom”, they call it.) Secondly: with at least four (if not five) other entries all rocking the exact same Fusion Of Eastern And Western Influences vibe, there is the distinct danger that Poor Javine (for it is her) may well get buried in the rush. Can only another Nipplegate incident save her now? (8)

Jennifer Lopez ft Fat Joe – Hold You Down

Any tune which has the discerning good taste to sample Roger “Zapp” Troutman’s composition/production for Shirley Murdoch, the sublime “As We Lay”, gets an automatic bye from me. With both J-Lo and Mariah Carey putting out solid material this year, the old certainties are tumbling around us like fragments of the old Berlin Wall. Oh happy dawn! That we should live to see the day! (7)

Mylo – In My Arms

On my way back from lunch not long ago, this popped up on my iPod just as I was crossing the big public square in the middle of the city. The sun was out, the people looked happy, and all felt right with the world. As my steps fell into synch with the track, so my eyes started jump-cutting between buildings and passers-by, doing one of those little personalised location shoots that you sometimes do when you’re out on your own. Then, as the familiar Kim Carnes sample kicked in, and fresh memories of the heart-warming boy-meets-girl Groundhog Day video started to superimpose themselves over my own visuals, a surging feeling of all-consuming bliss welled up inside me, sending cold shivers to my spine and hot tears to my eyes. Mugged by the unexpected, I allowed myself a broad, beaming smile and kept on walking up the pedestrianised alleyway back to the office, silently ecstatic, as both my inner and outer realities fused into one moment of luminous transcendence. So, ten points then. Bland my arse. (10)

New Order ft Ana Matronic – Jetstream

Did you ever invent imaginary groups when you were little? ‘Cos I had loads – including The Poppy Band, and their debut hit “Nefertiti (So Good To Me)”. Quite how New Order have managed to rip off the chorus of this song so thoroughly, I will never know – but rip it off they have, the evil telepathic memory-sucking bastards. Tempo, melody, rhyming structure, everything. Compare and contrast the following, if you will. Female backing vocals are in brackets.

The Poppy Band: “Nefertiti (Nefertiti), so good to me (so good to me).”
New Order: “J.E.T (J.E.T), you are so good for me (you are so good for me).”

Spooked? Too bloody right I’m spooked. I reckon it’s all that Ms. Matronic’s doing. I met her just before the Scissor Sisters became famous, and she seemed so nice. Little did I know that she was illegally downloading from my subsconscious into hers, even as I was complementing her on her band’s demo MP3s. Guess it cuts both ways, then. (7)

Oasis – Lyla

Scoff all you like, but Oasis are one of my guilty pleasures. Impossible to explain why, but there’s something about the sheer brass-necked obviousness of their musical thievery, and their brazen “best rock band in the world” arrogance, which I actually find quite endearing. Thus every few years, when Noel gives his statutory “best album since Definitely Maybe” interview, I always find myself longing for it to be true, and making every possible allowance in the process. And so it is with “Lyla”, whose thrilling musical innovation stems from a) a mildly diverting rhythmic twist in the chorus, which they then proceed to repeat as often as they can get away with, and b) ripping off the Stones rather than the Beatles for a change. Specifically “Street Fighting Man”. Yes, that’s Disc 1, Track 1 of the 40 Licks compilation, about 15 seconds in. Hey, why waste time looking any further? That’s for pretentious tossers, that is. Blur would do that. (Oh, and the title! Genius or what? What’s next: Glora? Jula? Ange?) Anyway, I fully expect to see a sea of zeroes from the rest of the panel, but I DON’T FOOKIN CARE, because this is going to be FOOKIN NUMBER ONE ANYWAY, so WHO GIVES A FOOK WHAT YOU THINK? (7)

Rob Thomas – Lonely No More

American readers might be surprised to learn that, like Modest Mouse and the Dave Matthews Band, Rob Thomas’s Matchbox 20 are virtually unknown in the UK, with the only real recognition factor coming from his collaboration with Carlos Santana on “Smooth”. Nevertheless, there is some serious promotional push behind this, as Thomas is given the full Priority Marketing treatment in a concerted attempt to catapult him into our hearts. I can’t see it happening, though. There hasn’t been much call for this type of amiably blokey sports-bar blues/rock since Men At Work split up and the Knopfler brothers went their separate ways, and while this might pass muster at low volume during Happy Hour at Hooters, I can’t see it making any further inroads than that. I’m going to be proved so wrong, aren’t I? (4)

Trick Daddy – Sugar

They gave us seventeen singles to review this week, you know. Seventeen! I do think they could safely have omitted this witless slop, though. After all, “Candy Shop” is still in the charts, and the Black Eyed Peas are already on this week’s list. Stick the knickers-knackers-knockers slobbering of the former over the fake jollity of the latter, and you’re pretty much all the way there. Gerroff! Rubbish! (2)

Turin Brakes – Fishing For A Dream 

Winsome, wistful, suffocatingly agreeable folksy acoustic strumalong, of no particular consequence. Not that I’m averse to folksy acoustic strumalongs in any way, but Kings Of Convenience do this sort of thing so much better. (And so did Ben & Jason, for that matter. Anyone remember them?) (5)

Stevie Wonder – So What The Fuss 

A return to form in so many ways, as Stevie evokes the glories of his mid-1970s peak with a satisfyingly taut, gritty funk workout. With guests including a reunited En Vogue doo-doo-doo-ing away in the background, and no less a figure than Prince on guitar, contributing what can only be described as (forgive me) Tasty Licks, everything about this spells Major Artistic Comeback – and not before time, either. Unfortunately, this largely successful referencing of Wonder’s “message” era does not extend to the finger-wagging lyrics, which take preachy pot-shots at a fairly random shopping list of targets, linked only by the phrase “shame on you”. Without any kind of unifying principle to link these complaints together, the effect encroaches dangerously upon Grumpy Old Men territory. Musically hot but lyrically not, this is still Wonder’s best work in many years. (7)

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