Steps – Scared Of The Dark

“They’re BACK.”

Tim: Item ONE: Steps were originally conceived just to be a one-hit wonder act, because the writers of 5, 6, 7, 8 wanted to get it released. Item TWO: that plan changed somewhat. Item THREE: twenty years later, here’s THIS because they’re BACK.

Tim: GOD, that’s good.

Tom: You’re not wrong. Comeback hits aren’t meant to be this good, surely?

Tim: That’s “listen to it several times to appreciate all of it” good. Right from the start, the string line there is signifying that while you don’t know what it is, something damn good is coming along soon. And, in due course, it sure as hell does: that chorus could be a lead single from Alcazar at their very, very highest, and boy is that a compliment I can’t imagine paying to many other acts. Throw in that delightful key change, and you’ve got a perfectly-packaged piece of disco.

Tom: It is, as well, that percussion could have come straight out of a Donna Summer track. In fact, this is a combination of decades of pop music. There’s even occasional 80s white-noise-sweeps in there. It’s not quite orchestral, but those strings make it feel… well, more grown-up, perhaps?

Tim: Here is what I love most about it: this is Steps. Actual, full-on, Steps. No compromises, no modern synth beats trying to be current, but just plain, unapologetic “this is what we do, and we love it”. Six weeks until the album and I CAN’T WAIT.

Busted – Coming Home

“Question on everyone’s mind: is it any good?”

Tim: The first new Busted track in over a decade (!) is finally here, after Charlie realised how much cash the other two were making off the back of McBusted and decided he wanted in as well.

Tom: For legal reasons, I should clarify that Tim is entirely speculating there.

Tim: Question on everyone’s mind: is it any good?

Tim: YES, it actually is! Which is fantastic news! A somewhat different sound, as is to be expected with the aforementioned “over a decade” part, but it’s largely a good one – the pop rock they were known for is all still there, now with added electronic stuff.

Tom: Which sounds a bit like MGMT’s Time to Pretend to me: not that they’re using an exact patch or anything like that, but it’s the same style.

Tim: I’ve got to confess my ears did twitch slightly in distress when I first heard that somewhat harsh and ever-present synth line, but jumping about in the chorus it’s alright, and the synths towards the end of the middle eight just sound absolutely lovely.

Tom: It is a bit much sometimes, and I’m really not sure about that odd twinge on Taj Mahal: the whole line’s a bit strange, really. But if I’m picking out things like that, I guess I don’t have any bigger complaints about the track.

Tim: Lyrically, it’s a good one for a comeback track, with the whole “I miss my family” line that I can kind of imagine Charlie yelling out as he frantically bangs on the door of McBusted’s tour bus, realising how much cash he was missing out on. Video’s odd – particularly the censoring of the naughty words, because presumably if people don’t want to be offended they’re meant to put it on mute. All in all: good starter track, let’s hear the rest of them.

Darude feat. AI AM – Beautiful Alien

“I question whether that’s a ‘new’ tune.”

Tim: Yes, Darude, of Sandstorm and Feel The Beat megafame, back with a new tune. He had a few more recent hits in his native Finland back around 2007, but now this is getting a multinational push, presumably hoping for the same level of success.

Tom: I question whether that’s a “new” tune.

Tim: First for me, a wondering: for someone whose two biggest hits have had either no vocal at all or just a single line, the amount of vocals seems a bit weird. There’s next to no focus at all on the dance bit, despite the multiple builds up to an a cappella “beautiful alien” that almost yearns to be followed by a good thirty seconds or so of massive dance stuff.

Tom: I suppose that’s a side effect of Avicii and his farm-house style: you’re expected to have Big Vocals now.

Tim: Admittedly it’s nowhere short on big beats, but the vocal focus seems surprising. Second, a complaint of sorts: all the Darude-sounding stuff that we enjoyed fifteen years ago is there, but nearly almost entirely recycled. The part beneath the intro is identical to Sandstorm, as the the underlying part that surrounds the two minute mark.

Tom: Yep, agreed: this is the same thing Sash tried with Encore Une Fois: add a new vocal, keep some of the instrumentation, see if people will buy it. It’ll probably do about as well.

Tim: I suppose the argument might be that he wants to keep a similar sound but bring it up to date, which is technically correct, but ideally it’d be by combining two, rather than having half identical and half largely unlike the previous, almost more or a mashup of two tracks than a whole new one. I don’t know, I quite like it; it’s just not remotely what I wanted a Darude comeback track to be.

T’Pau – Nowhere

“And it’s rather lovely, isn’t it?”

Tom: Yep, it’s the band that did the wonderful “China In Your Hand“, and a couple of other minor hits besides, in the late ’80s. And after a long time disbanded, they’ve surprisingly reunited, gone on tour, and recorded a new album.

Tim: Hmm. I’ve never sure, with a heritage like that, whether I want to hear an updated sound or not. Let’s find out.

Tom: And it’s rather lovely, isn’t it? I’ve fallen in love with good string sections lately, and this definitely has one.

Tim: Ooh, that’s very lovely. I was entirely ambivalent about it until the chorus hit, but it’s a very very good chorus. And, yes, a good string section.

Tom: I’m really not sure about how quiet it gets at the start of that second verse, but I reckon the guitar into piano-solo middle eight makes up for it.

Tim: Well, this is something we see many, many times – a quiet verse redeemed by an excellent chorus, then brought crashing back down again. Like you say, though, it’s made up for by the guitar and, again, the chorus.

Tom: But here’s the bit I like most about it: look at that waveform on the SoundCloud player. More than anything, that’s a retro sound coming back: it’s not crushed to oblivion, it’s not a brick wall of compressed sound. There’s space for all the instruments to be heard. I’m not a purist about that, at all; modern EDM shouldn’t have all that much headroom. But for a track like this? Yes, please.

Tim: It does work well – can’t disagree with that at all.

Tom: I doubt it’ll trouble the charts; it’ll probably get plonked somewhere on the Radio 2 playlist and get put in their setlist for the reunion tour. But this is a better comeback single than most bands manage, and they should be congratulated for it.

Tim: Then: congratulations, T’Pau!

The Big Reunion – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

“This is an awful, awful cover.”

Tom: We had Comic Relief singles. We had Children in Need singles. I guess ITV is now getting in on the act with Text Santa singles.

Tim: And, of course, the X Factor single, which for the past couple of years has been for Together For Small Lives, which is definitely because they want to be charitable and definitely not because they want to get rid of all the “Let Kill These X Factor Profitable Bastards” Facebook campaigns. Actually, sod my cynicism: why can’t it be both. It’s a good charity, and a not particularly terrible track. Buy it, why don’t you.

Tom: Is it a bit awkward, by the way, that Leona Lewis also covered this? Folks from two ITV shows, both releasing the same cover in the same year. You’d think they could have co-ordinated that better.

Anyway, we asked for two things of Leona track: “this had better be rollicking”, and “capturing the essence” of the original. Now, we’ve decided in the past that we don’t treat charity singles any differently, so let me warn you: this is an awful, awful cover.

Tim: Hahaha – what a wonderful introduction. LET’S HIT PLAY, KIDS!

Tim: There was Alien. Then there was Aliens. AND THEN THERE WAS ALIEN 3.

Tom: It was anaemic, but generally acceptable, I guess, until that unexpected, unnecessary and unforgivable rap middle eight. Then to make matters worse, the saxophone has completely disappeared.

Tim: I don’t know – I actually found that rap very moving and profoundly thought-provoking. Well, at least the first time I heard it. Then I heard it again and noticed that “there’s people without no food to eat” was a double negative and then that entirely ruined it. SORRY ABS MUST TRY HARDER.

Tom: And then an “IT’S CHRISTMAS!” shouted? That’s the wrong band! That’s Slade! And then all the timing’s messed up! You’ve ruined Christmas, ITV. YOU’VE RUINED CHRISTMAS.

Tim: No, no I won’t quite have that. Because right now, there’s only one supergroup that matters for me. And ITV are also responsible for that. So they’re even. But if it wasn’t for that, then yes, ITV. YOU’VE RUINED CHRISTMAS. BECAUSE THIS IS AWFUL.

Mutya Keisha Siobhan – Flatline

“All the way through, I was hoping for more.”

Tom: So the three ex-Sugababes — the three with the most awkward names to spell — have their first single. This ought to be an absolute cracker, right? I mean, there’s no way that they’d start out with anything other than a bit of pop genius, right?

…right?

Tim: Right. This is, by the way, a track I’ve heard a lot about but never actually cared enough to listen to. But I suppose I should really give it a go. Like you say – it ought to be great.

Tom: …oh, man, is that ever an album track.

Tim: Oh, now that’s quite harsh.

Tom: All the way through, I was hoping for more: that the lacklustre first verse would turn into a brilliant chorus, that the second chorus would be greater than the first, that the building middle eight would resolve into a glorious finale… and each time, I was disappointed.

Tim: I know what you mean about wanting more – I felt a tad let down when the chorus hit following that first build to it, and the close isn’t really as strong as I’d like it to be – but dismissing it as album track material is harsh. Mind you, it’s not what it should be as a “LOOK AT US, WE’RE HERE” track.

Tom: The ending is… nice, I suppose? But “nice” really isn’t what I was looking for here.

“A flatline that ought to be a wave.” That pretty much just sums up the song, doesn’t it?

Tim: I’m not sure – looking at it objectively, beat-heavy dance pop is what we want and what they did as the Sugababes. People hearing from them, such as us, will probably want that same stuff, and be disappointed; on the other hand, they presumably want to say “actually, we’re MKS, not the Origibabes”, and this is the right way of doing it. Will it work? I don’t know – Origibabes fans won’t like it immediately, but others might.

Backstreet Boys – In A World Like This

“Backstreet’s… something.” Here? Returned? Around?

Tim: Tom – help me. There’s a fairly well-known phrase, but I can’t quite think what it is, and you might know it. Two words, “Backstreet’s… something.” Here? Returned? Around?

Tom: “Almost certainly not as good as everyone remembers?”

Tim: Blimey – fighting talk from the man in the red corner, who’s clearly forgotten works of art like The One, Larger Than Life, Quit Playing Games (With My Heart) and this album cover.

Anyway, they’re all back together for the first time since 2006, they’ve got an album on the way that’s “a personal record” about what’s going on in their lives right now. With that in mind, let’s hear the lead single.

Tim: So there’s personal, and then there’s bringing in one of the most prolific and bestest songwriters around (Swedish, which always helps), and getting him to pull out the big guns, and my word has he done a good job here.

Tom: Bloody hell, I’d encourage our reader to check that Wikipedia link. That’s an astonishing list of songs.

Tim: It is indeed, and with this one they’re basically singing what could be a certain other band’s next big hit. Roughly half the age of these guys, just made in big in America – really, really big – you know the one I mean.

Tom: I wasn’t sure about that — it sounded a bit too generic and, well, “meh” — but then that glorious final chorus hit.

Tim: It’s a great track, and to be honest it’s hard to imagine this not being a hit – not only have they got the bang up to date sound spot on, but they’ve still got the massive fanbase from back in the day. This will be a big track, albeit not a remotely personal one, and it will deserve it.

Tom: Agreed. Backstreet is, indeed, back.

Tim: Also, I repaired a MacBook Pro belonging to Nick Carter a while back. Probably wasn’t this Nick Carter, but it was still quite exciting.

David Bowie – Where Are We Now

Tom: Years of silence, and then – out of nowhere – BOOM. New album, new single, from one of the few British artists who can legitimately be called a legend without hyperbole. Surprise!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOyDTy9DtHQ

Tim: Um. Right. Okay. It has guitars, that’s good.

Tom: Heaven knows what that video’s about, but still: that’s not a bad track at all. Comebacks are meant to be lousy versions of the original, and this really isn’t.

Tim: That is true. It doesn’t really grab me, though – at least not in the way I thought it might, given the way people raved about it all day on Twitter. Which is a bit of a shame. But why on Earth’s he going on about Berlin all the time? Aren’t we about 23 years too late for that?

Tom: It’s slow and soulful Bowie, not upbeat and poppy Bowie, and… well, his style’s not changed. This could, with a touch less age in the voice – not a complaint, it’s aged wonderfully – be a single from any one of this earlier albums.

Tim: Hmm. You’re certainly right about that, I must agree.

Tom: I was about to worry that it went nowhere, that it never built – and then, bloody hell, that final chorus and instrumental outro. Bit of a shame about the fade-out ending, but then, that’s how it always used to be.

Aqua – Like A Robot

“Oh my. Well, that’s very… 2010s.”

Tom: Right, let’s have a look at the other half of the double A-side then. This is the out-of-character one, right?

Tom: Oh my. Well, that’s very… 2010s.

Tim: Yeah – less of the universal love thing, more of a, well, Taio Cruz, In The Club, let’s get drunk and have sex thing. Disappointing – I could cope with the style, but Aqua always used to be happy and family-friendly, with a fair helping of cheeky innuendo; here, that’s all gone out of the window and it’s a bit of a shame.

Tom: Wait, hang on! Did she just swear? I didn’t see that coming.

Tim: Exactly. Similar in one very noticeable way to another song we recently covered – this may just be coincidence, or it may be that unexpected obscenity is the new trend in Scandinavia. As a musical style it’s somewhat fun, but in an Aqua track it just seems so wrong.

Tom: I was in France recently, and found that some of their radio stations play English-language tracks entirely uncensored, including some properly obscene rap lyrics. It was a surprising journey, that one.

Tim: In my sister’s car, with my granddad, with a compilation CD she’d made on in the background. Moment of silence in the conversation, out comes a Cee Lo Green track. Yes, that Cee Lo Green track.

Aqua – Playmate to Jesus

“I do hope they tour, because I will be there.”

Tim: Released last Monday, a double A-side single, preceding their new album due out in Denmark two weeks today. One – Playmate to Jesus – is close to know-and-love-them Aqua, the other – Like A Robot – is less so, but still interesting. Let’s start with the first one.

Tom: A third album! The legendary third Aqua album. I don’t mind saying I’m rather looking forward to it, even after the disappointment of their last single.

Tim: It’s not quite Barbie Girl territory, but this will certainly please older fans, I reckon. Calmer melody, family-friendly stuff.

Tom: Well, it’s pleased me. Apollo-mission beeps as part of the intro melody, and a proper full-on chorus. I do hope they tour, because I will be there.

Tim: It seems that Réné’s definitely decided to become a proper singer, though, and I’m not sure if that spoils it a bit. If I have one criticism, I reckon this song could be made about 20% faster and it would sound (a) more Aqua-y, (b) better and (c) less almost-five-minutes-long.

Tom: Not sure about the actual “Playmate to Jesus” lyric, though. Seems a bit needlessly, well, Jesus-y. He wasn’t really one for space exploration, was he?

Tim: No, but he did preach the whole universal love thing (and is perhaps the most notable person to have done so, if you don’t count Cliff Richard), and that’s what the song really comes down in the end. A nice, happy song.