Mike Atkinson

Stylus Singles Jukebox, 23rd January 2006

Posted in singles reviews, Stylus by Mike A on January 23, 2006

Remioromen – Konayuki 

Until discovering that Remioromen were a Japanese band, I had blithely assumed that they were of Scandinavian extract. Finnish, maybe – or Icelandic, at a stretch. God knows why: a particular quality in the phonetics, perhaps, combined with a kind of widescreen melancholy which I have grown to associate with northern Europe. Anyhow, such lyrical impenetrability does have the benefit of lending universality to the music, regardless of what specific sentiments are actually being conveyed. The effect is not unlike listening to Sigur Ros, albeit wedded to the sort of midtempo indie-AOR chug that would normally turn me right off. However, any potential dreariness is staved off by a glorious refrain, in which the singer switches to a soaring upper register which displays all his strengths, while a sympathetic string arrangement strikes up behind. As the whole song shifts into a higher gear, moody introspection is dispelled by a yearning, expansive intensity – which reads to me like a final, desperate, doomed plea for redemption, rising up from the smouldering wreckage of a shattered love affair. So please don’t tell me that it’s about, I dunno, believing in yourself and following your dream or some other sort of Martin-esque cod profundity. Some stones are better left unturned. (8)

Pharrell Williams – Angel

A potentially delightful exercise in classic soul stylings of the Marvin Gaye/Prince variety is obstructed by the harsh, lumbering lower half of the arrangement, which awkwardly disrupts the flow of the upper half, all sweetly honeyed falsettos and beatific piano figures. Maybe that was the intention: to subvert the surface innocence of Pharrell’s vocal performance by hinting at the more directly libidinous intentions which he cannot convincingly conceal. After all, are we really expected to buy his “respectful son” act, as he first seeks the advice of his mother, before reassuring his girlfriend’s father that his intentions are honourable? Maybe the tell-tale moment comes with the line “I won’t touch your girl in your sight”. Well, that and referring to her “ass like a loaf of bread” at the top of the track, before asking whether anyone wants a “slice”. Bit of a giveaway, that. This light-hearted combination of the sacred and the profane could have worked – but ultimately, its opposing musical and lyrical themes create messy confusion rather than intriguing dynamic tension. (5)

A-Ha – Analogue (All I Want)

It’s hard to believe that A-ha have been having hits – in mainland Europe, at least – for the past twenty years, quietly notching up the sort of sneaking, how-did-they-do-that longevity which has also been bestowed upon fellow 1980s survivors Depeche Mode. As someone who hasn’t exactly paid much attention to them over those twenty years, I find myself struck, on the evidence of this at least, by a sense of natural generational progression, successfully sidestepping the sort of Faded Teen Hero/Peter Pan syndrome that would have scuppered a lesser act. Pleading for a second chance from both his wife and his son, Morten Harket – in as fine a voice as ever – articulates a kind of mournful desperation that is particular to a man in his time of life. The band hasn’t lost the knack of fashioning an instant hook, either. Like “Take On Me” before it, “All I Want” is centred upon the sort of emphatic, ascending three-note figure which – as recent personal experience can testify – can lodge in the brain for days. (6)

Cascada – Everytime We Touch

Like so much of the best pop-oriented Euro-NRG-Trance, this manages to strike just the right balance between the plaintive and the ecstatic. While the verses offer up a yearning plea for emotional/sexual fulfilment, the storming choruses illustrate just what a joyous release that fulfilment can be – at which point, we lurch into a rasping, brutal, deliriously dumb slab of Scooter-esque stadium techno, built around one of those insanely catchy melodic figures which are a speciality of the genre, and further emphasised by a gonzo-militaristic insistence on the down-beats. It’s wilfully dumb, not unlike the wilful dumbness of the early Ramones: a tightly constricted formula which can be endlessly re-jigged, each slight re-jigging topping pleasure levels back up to their maximum. In this case, it falls to the second verse and chorus to tinker with the expectations of the dancefloor: with each successive four-bar section, you can never precisely forecast where you’re going to be taken next. (7)

Richard Hawley – Just Like The Rain 

As many have observed, Hawley’s songs really do sound like they have been around forever: lost standards, plucked from the ether and made into living, breathing flesh. Besides which, South Yorkshire has always been big on Country & Western – and indeed, you can almost imagine a Sheffield version of Don Williams belting this out on a Friday night, at the sort of working men’s club where the teenage Hawley first cut his musical teeth. However, what separates “Just Like The Rain” from any number of MOR C&W standards is precisely that quality of the ethereal: a shimmering lightness of touch, where the exquisite intricacy of the gently tumbling arrangement adds weight to what might otherwise have been a perilously slight song structure. There’s precious little musical movement to the verses, which simply hang in the air, content to state and then re-state their purpose, just as Hawley – here cast as the returning prodigal wanderer – states and re-states both his remorse and his relief. Faced with this blend of lachrymose regret and shining-eyed hope, you sense that redemption is mere moments away. (9)

Miranda – Don 

Whereas with some foreign language songs, the absence of literal meaning can open up all sorts of possibilities for subjective interpretation, in the case of this bizarre little Latino-pop confection, I must confess to remaining utterly mystified. For what it’s worth, my guess is that some sort of lightly comic narrative is being conveyed, as a youthful sounding boy/girl duo deliver the verses in chiming unison over jerky triplets, a fuzzed-out rock riff, and next to no bass. But if a story is being told here, then why does the track keep skidding off into the most ridiculously chirpy bubblegum interlude, featuring a preposterous one-note synth melody which could have been lifted from an early 1990s Nintendo platform game? Daft, disconnected and disorientating – but at the same time, perversely effective. (6)

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