Singles - March 2009
Posted by Kuang on Sun, 01 Mar 2009.
The Maccabees - No Kind Words
This reminds me a lot of the wave of music that swept the North shortly before Madchester exploded, typified by the Inspiral Carpets, Joy Division, and later on by the likes of Shed Seven. No Kind Words is extremely dark, brooding and understated, yet remains totally wired and just off balance enough to be unnerving between shards of melody. It's a sparse and splintered affair, rough but still focused and threaded through with spiky guitar lines over a urgent rhythm section. They manage that rare trick of stripping out almost everything for the chorus to hammer home the point rather than throwing the works into the mix and hoping something sticks, leaving the sole line 'If you've got no kind words to say, then you should say nothing at all' to crash to the surface. I've been slightly ambivalent about the Maccabees in the past, but this is enough to make me wonder if there's something I've missed. You can grab this track for yourself free of charge for a short time by visiting the band's official website and see what you think.
Chris Cornell - Part Of Me
I have the utmost respect for Chris Cornell, through his work with Soundgarden and Audioslave, and for his astonishing solo albums, but I think I've lost the plot slightly here. Cornell's has taken a new musical turn with this new single, forgoing deep psychedelic rock for a sparse RnB feel with industrial overtones, presumably heavily influenced by the collaboration with Timbaland. The bare, minimalist intro is reminiscent of early Nine Inch Nails and hints at menace to come and Cornell's incredible voice is utterly unmistakeable, but when we hit the synthy chorus with Cornell intoning 'No that chick ain't a part of me' (and that lyric is an edit from the more misogynistic original..) over gangsta/gospel influenced backing vox, it feels like something, somewhere has gone very badly wrong. It's a very daring and unexpected twist, but I just can't get into it. I get the feeling this will open up Cornell's career to a whole new set of followers who probably aren't aware of his more guitar-oriented work but I'd have to hear the whole album before I can tell if the elements here that really work are able to rise above the unexpected surroundings.
The Saturdays - Just Can't Get Enough
You know that scene in the film 'Big' where Tom Hanks repeatedly says 'I don't get it' whilst the toy executive is trying to explain the point of the skyscraper-shaped Transformer to him? I think I know how he felt now. Almost every year since 1986 has seen Comic Relief release a single to back up their fundraising efforts in conjunction with a variety of artists ranging from the sublime to the (quite literally) ridiculous. This years song is a cover of the 1981 Depeche Mode track 'I Just Can't Get Enough', presumably for the fundraising connotations of the title, and delivered by The Saturdays - the current girl band darlings of the Saturday morning TV crowd. What we have is a pretty straightforward poppy cover of a track that in all honesty wan't that great to begin with.. and that's it really. It doesn't do anything intresting with the track, it's not innovative or exciting and it isn't likely to form a high point in the band's biography. What's even more interesting is that the video mix of the track on the same CD is actually a lot closer to the original, forgoing the 'doofdoofdoof' pseudo-house backbeat for a sparser, more retro feel. I'm sure a lot of popkids who haven't heard the original will probably love the bouncy, sparkly feel we have here and the singalong-friendly lyrics and that's probably exactly what was intended - fair play to the production team. It's great that buying this single will contribute to Comic Relief, but in my opinion that's the only reason for doing so.
Metric - Help I'm Alive
I had never heard of Metric before this, to my shame, and I can say that this is one of my singles of the year and a hell of an introduction. It's a brilliant, emotional mix of electronica and indie rock, perfectly measured and finessed to swing between almost unbearable sweetness and shadowy introspection. Emily Haines' vocals have the light touch of classic indie band The Darling Buds with the vulnerability of Portishead's Beth Gibbons, yet she can still inject a touch of snarl to keep you on your toes. There's not a single note wasted, no riffs for the sake of riffs, and all propelled along by a lean and unrelenting beat.. when the mood lifts for the chorus, the timing swings and the counterpoint between the Pixie-esque guitar and the dramatic bassline is absolutely magical. Metric have convinced me that the overpowering wave of current electro-pretenders haven't sucked all of the potential out of the genre, and that there's still space for someone to look back whist powering ahead. You'll have to excuse me now, I have a back catalogue to hunt down.
Tom Jones - Give A Little Love
Ah, the nation's favourite Welsh vocal powerhouse returns with a huge slab of Motown. Assume that Tom's vocals will be on belting form as usual and look at the music for a moment - Give a Little Love is a huge stomping chunk of funky soul that could have been plucked straight from the motor city's glory years and spruced up for modern ears. It's all blaring horns, bungee basslines and a liberal scattering of female backing singers. The lyrics are pure cheese as you might expect, but if someone like Bryn Christopher was behind the mic people would probably see it a lot more favourably - in some way's it's Tom's name that holds him back among new listeners, for this is a good solid track in anyone's book.
Tommy Reilly - Gimme A Call
I've not forgiven Reilly for the most godawful massacre of a Killers track I've ever heard, in the form of his rendition of Mr Brightside in the Oranged Unsigned competition.. and you could safely use the US military version of rendition there, meaning a forced and brutal abduction. I'm not sure if Tommy records his own tracks because the sound mix and production values here really aren't very good - certainly not of release quality in my opinion. Gimme a Call sounds like an off balance mix of Bob Dylan and The Proclaimers, but unfortunately not as accomplished as either. It doesn't seem like much effort has been put into getting the vocals right - singing out of tune doesn't make you charming and endearing, it makes you sound like you don't know what you're doing. His lyrics are actually pretty good, but they're just swamped by a poor delivery. I think its fantastic that acoustic music is getting the coverage it deserves again, but this really isn't the best way to advertise the strengths of the genre.
Dan Black - Alone
P-funk? Eh? The spirit of Bootsy Collins is strong in this one in the form of the chunkiest bassline I've heard in a while. Black's high, clear vocals seem at odds with the promise of a dirty funk monster, but that promise remains unfulfilled as the tune thunders off into Scissor Sisters territory instead, with falsetto harmonies and arpeggiated synths.. and at one point, what sounds like a digitally hacked harmonica. It's happy, perky electro pop with lots of really interesting elements but I don't think it ever quite peaks in the way you'd expect it to. Having said that, there's nothing wrong with it at all and I can imagine that if Dan got a remix artist/collective like RAC or the Filthy Dukes in to work with him on it, it could result in an absolute floorfiller. The energy, infectious vocal melodies and hooks are all there, and just need a tiny little shove in order to gel in a big way. I think this is a case of 'good track, but watch this space for the main attraction'.