Mike Atkinson

Stylus Singles Jukebox, 25th July 2006

Posted in singles reviews, Stylus by Mike A on July 25, 2006

Nadiya – Roc 

As a one-off appropriation of rock stylings by a predominantly R&B-based act, “Roc” invites comparison with En Vogue’s similarly yowling, strident – and ultimately irritating – “Free Your Mind”.  Once again, all traces of anything approaching funkiness, or “groove”, have been taken right out of the equation.  What remains is a shrill, top-heavy rattle, punctuated by ugly power-chord guitar stabs and a tinny, brassy keyboard refrain which – like the whole performance – falls well short of its triumphalist, anthemic aspirations.  Not that any of this stopped the song from reaching #2 in the French singles charts, but what can you do? (3)

Beatriz Luengo – Hit-Lerele 

After squandering the initial promise of its sweetly strummed acoustic sample, this insipid, plodding piece of instantly forgettable Hispanic R&B is partially redeemed by Yotuel Romero’s guest rap, whose animated reggaeton/dancefloor inflections provide a welcome counterpoint to Luengo’s ineffectual simperings. Nevertheless, it’s still much too little, much too late. (2)

Ne-Yo – Sexy Love 

Doing markedly better in the UK than in the States, this—how can we put this delicately?—“affectionate tribute” to Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” is underpinned by a clappity-clappity Diwali-esque rhythm track, which duly evokes fond memories of Wayne Wonder, Lumidee, and the summer of 2003. Ne-Yo softens the song’s underlying sexual thrust with a gently yearning romanticism, the backing singers go “ooh-ooh” in all the right places, and the combined effect is one of teasingly understated seduction. Which, of course, makes it as sexy as hell.  (7)

George Michael – An Easier Affair

Nope: this one isn’t going to arrest the long slow artistic/commercial decline, either.  Over the same tired old suburban-wine-bar soul/funk backing that he has been peddling ever since “Fast Love”, George recycles the same tired old post-coming-out “revelations” that have graced all of his interviews since being busted for cottaging a full eight years ago.  Whereas 1998’s “Outside” handled much the same issues with wit, aplomb, and a boldness which was genuinely ground-breaking for its time, “An Easier Affair” has nothing to say that we haven’t heard before, and says it with the sort of narrow, self-absorbed literalism that even Madonna at her most solipsistic manages to swerve clear of.  Hell, some of this half-digested self-help piffle (“Don’t let them tell you who you are is not enough”) would make even Geri Halliwell cringe. (4)

Ze Pequeno – Ze Phenomene

French language reggaeton, somewhat inevitably rendered in a Manu Chao-esque style, avec accordion (naturellement).  Presumably huge on the back-packer beach bar scene; markedly less essential anywhere else. (5)

The Similou – All This Love 

The freshest, peppiest, friskiest, zingiest re-casting of funky 1980s electro-pop since Chromeo’s “Needy Girl” – but directed this time at a teenage rather than an art-school audience.  Like so much of this year’s best pop, it’s from Sweden, where they know how to put these things together to maximum effect.  The elastic bassline boings along like the Human League’s “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”, while a dinky little “Popcorn” synth riff skips over the top, and a syn-drum occasionally makes its presence felt.   The vibe is light, summery, and clad in shades of pastel, with a thin cotton jersey slung around its neck.  The vibe has blonde highlights in its hair, trousers rolled up to the ankles, and espadrilles on its feet.  The vibe is sipping a pina colada through a bendy straw.  Fun and sunshine – there’s enough for everyone.  All that’s missing is the sea.  (7)

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Stylus Singles Jukebox, 18th July 2006

Posted in singles reviews, Stylus by Mike A on July 18, 2006

Paolo Nutini – Last Request 

Oh, Paolo.  I came not to praise you, but to dismiss you as this year’s James Blunt, and thus bury you under veritable mountains of smart-assedness (such an easy lob).  And yet, while this year’s James Blunt you most certainly are – that half-strangled upper register alone! – something about this song has hooked me in against my will.  Like “You’re Beautiful” before it, what seems at face value to be a bog-standard sappy love song reveals itself over time to contain something murkier at its core – and yet there’s something about Nutini’s desperate, self-abasing, borderline-creepy “give me one last shag before we split up” fucked-upness which is both believable and oddly compelling.  Tell you what: if this was belted out by some low-rent diva in a Eurodance cover version, it would sound bloody fantastic. (7)

McFly – Please Please

OK, so for those of you out of the UK teenpop celeb-goss loop, here’s the backstory: In the touching belief that this will Break Them In The States, Just Like A Hard Day’s Night Or Something, McFly make rubbish new movie (Just My Luck), starring Lindsay Lohan. During filming, drummer Harry has alleged Saucy Fling with Lohan. Following said fling (hotly denied by Lohan’s “people”), the other three members of McFly “secretly” pen a rib-ticklingly lustful ode to Lohan (“Please please Lindsay please!”), as a Bit Of A Wind-Up Like, God You Should Have Seen His Face. Wot larks, eh! The result is a serviceably jolly piece of punky-power-pop fluff, whose nascent laddishness is augmented by some nifty bar-room/pub-rock piano fills along the way. Oh, and it’s for charity, and it’s bundled with an equally uncomplicated romp through Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” (7)

Franz Ferdinand – Eleanor, Put Your Boots On 

If you were thinking that this understated, gently yearning ode to long-distance love was a strange choice of single from the second album, then be advised that Franz have seen fit to re-record it, in a fuller, brighter and beefier new arrangement which chimes right in with the current vogue for soft-rocking AOR/MOR Guilty Pleasures pop. While radio-friendliness is certainly gained, something of the original’s lilting, touching romanticism is also lost—none of which is helped by Kapranos’s somewhat mannered occasional departures from the core melody. Happily, the song itself is just about strong enough to withstand being buggered about with. (8)

TV On The Radio – Wolf Like Me

No, no, no. Good grief, what are they teaching the kids in Goth School these days?  Look, if you’re going to do a song about turning into a werewolf “when the moon is round and full”, then you’re supposed to sound all bleak and sinister and tortured, and not so bloody cheerful about it, OK?  Bauhaus would never have made such an elementary error, I’m telling you. (8)

Young Dro ft. T.I. – Shoulder Lean

Sigh. As P.D. James said about Lily Allen on this week’s Newsnight Review: this simply wasn’t made for people like me.  (The endless droning repetition of the title does it no favours, either.)  Hell, I can scarcely even tell that Young Dro takes the first section (slurred like Fiddy, oozing languid menace), and T.I. the second (sharper, crisper, amusingly surreal).  Oh, and there’s a swift knock-back for Plan B in the Reality stakes: his mother might be shacked up with a crackhead, but round T.I.’s way, “don’t nobody live with my mum but a bunch of junkies”.  That’s bunch, as in plural, as in suck on that, skinny English boy. (5)

Plan B – Mama (Loves a Crackhead) 

An arrestingly accomplished tell-it-like-it-is depiction of a son’s concern, frustration and anger at his mother’s no-good waster of a boyfriend. The delivery is impeccable (the rat-a-tat staccato contrasting nicely with the summery vibe of the acoustic-driven backing), the emotion palpable (rising to a crescendo of perfectly aimed vitriol in the last verse), the situation entirely believable (you instinctively feels that he knows of what he speaks), and the inevitable Mike Skinner/Eminem comparisons fully justified (and in any case, both artists could use a couple of lessons in quality control). (9)

Sarah Nixey – Strangelove

In which Her Out Of Black Box Recorder, to put it bluntly, “does a Goldfrapp”. Flaunting a rather played-out set of stylistic tricks, it comes at least three years too late to make any sort of impact outside the usual circles, viz. art-fags over the age of 30 (the continuation of mid-1990s Billie Ray Martin by other means) and lovestruck str8 boyz with a yen for a bit of breathily purring Posh Totty (the continuation of mid-1960s Honor Blackman by other means). As I fall cheerfully into one of the above categories, I have no problem in giving it 7.  (7)

Greg Dulli & The Twilight Singers – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Tuesday July 11

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rescue Rooms by Mike A on July 11, 2006

Dressed in regulation black but radiating a surprising bonhomie, former Afghan Whigs front man Greg Dulli has the look of someone who has conquered his demons and come back smiling.

(Well, perhaps not all of his demons: with his microphone stand niftily customised to hold an ashtray, Dulli’s constant chain smoking puts even champion chuffer Ryan Adams in the shade.)

Although his songs mostly deal with the dark, dysfunctional side of human relationships, you sense that Dulli has, at last, found some measure of peace in life. Despite this useful new distance from his subject matter, his performance remains as riveting and galvanising as ever – and yet the assertively rasping vocal delivery (“I’m too tough to die!”) of this bulky, imposing man is balanced with an incongruous femininity that can sometimes border on camp.

The band’s classic rock stylings are emphasised by quotes from artists as diverse as The Beatles and Prince, Steve Miller and Outkast. An extraordinary encore starts by paying tribute to the late Syd Barrett, with a timely cover of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, before drifting into an equally spell-binding cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”. Perhaps Dulli’s personal triumph has been to step back from the craziness which both songs describe.