Stevie Wonder feat. Ariana Grande – Faith

“That is a heck of a combination.”

Tom: Yep, you’re reading that right. That is a heck of a combination. And if you’re wondering why: it’s for an animated movie — but given that similar circumstances gave us Pharrell’s Happy and Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling… don’t rule it out based on that.

Tim: Hell no – we’ve also got Let It Go and How Far I’ll Go, so I’ll never judge a song on that.

Tom: I’ve said for a long while, Tim, that there are three tests I use for a good pop song: do I find myself moving along to it, even just tapping my feet, on the first listen? Can I sing at least of some of the chorus after one listen? And do I immediately want to hit replay?

This passed all three tests. Only just on the chorus one, but it did.

Tim: Those are fair tests, and yet I have to say: not really, slightly maybe, no. That’s unduly harsh just outright like that, but still, not a fan here.

Tom: I guess I can understand that — because if I try and me a bit more objective, I don’t think it’s a really great bit of songwriting. But I thought that about Happy too, and about Can’t Stop The Feeling, and I’m still not bored of either of them. And listen to that production! The vocals are (of course) spectacular, the production is spot on, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome: this is an under-three-minute song that lasts under three minutes, just like it should.

Tim: Hmm – technically you’re right with all that, and yet annoyingly, I don’t feel it. Just doesn’t excite me at all.

Tom: Well, for me at least: this is good.

Matoma & Gia – Heart Won’t Forget

“A slightly summery track?”

Tim: As we muddle our way through the depths of midwinter, shall we have a slightly summery track to raise our spirits?

Tom: Okay, first up: the chorus – and the whistling bit – is mostly the middle eight from Wrecking Ball. “Don’t you ever say I just walked away,” etc etc. Probably a coincidence, still unfortunate, because it’s all I can hear.

Tim: Oh, YES it is, and that may explain why I liked it so much. Admittedly the message of it doesn’t make it a massively spirit-raising song, with the whole “we were pretty great but then it kind of went to shit” vibe throughout; on the other hand, that’s a cracking riff they’ve got going on in the chorus, wherever it came from, and the whistling makes it seem very chirpy indeed.

Tom: It does. It’s just a shame it sounds like another, better riff.

Tim: Well I’ll take it whatever, as a retrospective of good times in the year. It’s nice.

RedOne feat. Enrique Iglesias, R. City, Serayah & Shaggy – Don’t You Need Somebody

“A full basketball team”

Tom: Wait, what? He’s got first billing, not just out a shoutout?

Tim: Indeed – despite being quite possibly second only to Max Martin in terms of people who are Big In Pop but mostly staying behind the scenes, he has for this track stuck himself right on the front, along with quite the supporting cast, and…well, have a listen.

Tim: So let’s start with the obligatory introductions, which I particularly like as we meet RedOne, Enrique, R. City and Seraya by name or initials, and Shaggy as “Mister Lover”.

Tom: Which, oddly, probably makes him the most famous in there. Enrique, despite his worldwide following, still needs both names. Shaggy doesn’t even need his one.

Tim: We’ve got lyrics that immediately go start talking about you-know-what, and then we’ve got a line about “mouth to mouth without speaking” which is fine, because obviously it refers to vigorous kissing, but it’s hardly as though medical mouth to mouth typically involves in depth conversation.

Tom: Trying to talk while you’re making out with someone is basically a recipe for disaster anyway. Or for breaking into laughter, depending on the relationship.

Tim: But anyway: lyrics are all about doing it, and let’s be honest that’s hardly surprising. What is surprising, though, given the line up, is that’s it’s actually a fairly decent and listenable song. I think it’s the sheer variety creating by having a full basketball team in it – bit like Band Aid really, in that if one act ever gets a bit annoying, you know it won’t be long until they’re binned off in favour of someone else.

Tom: It looks like RedOne got the credit because it really is his song: he assembled the group and produced it. This is a song with just featured artists, and that’s fine.

Tim: Yep, and so unlikely as I may have thought originally: I like this.

Sandi Thom – Earthquake

“Precisely ‘standard’.”

Tom: My perceptions of this were already coloured by the context I found it in — so, without knowing about it, Tim, what do you think?

Tim: I will rate that as precisely “standard”. Easy to listen to, probably not something I’d choose to put on.

Tom: See, I think “that’s okay but a bit dated”. It’s got a great chorus, but then any momentum from it gets completely spoiled by the weird transition back to the verse.

Tim: A valid observation.

Tom: And that lyric video is… well, is “done on the cheap” a bit too harsh?

Tim: Absolutely not, as it does look pretty awful. The actual video, though, is a pretty neat idea, with tilting and dragging and stuff – it’s just a shame they didn’t do anything massively inventive with it.

Tom: Right, so here’s the context, and that article is well worth reading in its entirety, because it’s a brilliant primer on radio playlisting, fame, and how radio stations — I quote — “rarely touch an artist in the grip of an acute terminal decline”. Ouch.

Tim: Yeah, it doesn’t make for pretty reading, and I’ll admit, I had heard of the whole Facebook breakdown before hearing it, though wasn’t aware of all the details. Might she have a point? Eh…well, I can imagine Radio 2 playing it, but like that article points out, there are only thirty tracks on the list out of however many hundred are around at the moment, and just because you’ve had a hit previously, you’re not entitled to automatic inclusion.

Tom: Could this be a great track with a bit more production? Sure. If — to pick a name almost at random — Leona Lewis sang this, would it seem about right? Yep. But I think she’s just guaranteed that she won’t be getting much other than sympathy streaming any time soon.

Little Mix – Black Magic

“Really creepy when you start to deconstruct it.”

Tom: This is on every damn radio and TV playlist right now, enough that it’s starting to irritate the hell out of me.

Tim: Weirdly, I’ve heard lots of good stuff about it, but have somehow never heard it myself.

Tom: And, of course, it’s not released in the UK until next month, despite it already being out in the US. Because that makes sense.

Tim: You’ll be pleased to know that may well be the last time you make that complaint – GLOBAL RELEASE DATES, as of July 10th, every Friday. Let’s see if that hangs around as long as On Air On Sale did.

Tim: Oh…oh, yeah, I have heard it. A good number of times.

Tom: Let’s skip over the video, which — as with everything that plays love potions for comedy — is really creepy when you start to deconstruct it.

Tim: And the lyrics, in that case, because yes.

Tom: The song. It’s catchy. Really catchy.

Tim: Again, yes – it’s been a while since I’ve heard quite such an instant ear worm. I’m not resenting it particularly much.

Tom: Now, I reckon that’s because the backing is basically “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” and the first bit of the chorus is “St Elmo’s Fire”, but I can’t deny it’s catchy. I just wish it wasn’t being played every bloody hour on the music video channel in the office I’m working in right now.

Tim: Hmm. If you’d like a slight change, perhaps this remix of it will help you? It’s bloody wonderful, for starters, and it comes with considerably less Cyndi Lauper.

Jenni Vartiainen – Eden

“A bit like an Apple Watch”

Tim: Remember Jenni Vartiainen? Feel free to remind yourself if not, but basically: good pop with big instrumental backing.

Tim: And, conveniently, not much has changed. True, it’s not as big as some we’ve heard before, but this is still a great track.

Tom: Hmm. My attention kept slipping from it: I’ve tried to listen three times now: each time after about a minute I realised I wasn’t listening any more.

Tim: Curious – I have no such problem. I particularly like (as I suspect I’m meant to) the sense in the chorus that there’s something coming, and yes, I’ll find out if I just wait a bit, but I’d rather not; when it does coming along, though, much like an Apple Watch, the outcome is positive enough that all is forgiven.

Tom: See, I think it’s a bit like an Apple Watch too: vaguely specified, a bit confusing and disappointing, and no-one’s actually going to buy it.

Tim: Ah. The middle eight has all the ‘wait, wait, wait’ going on as well, although to be honest it almost takes it a bit far, giving a slight sense of ‘oh, hurry up’, but then the closing section comes along and, yeah, it’s all still worth it. Aye-aye-aye etc.

Tom: I’ve tried to listen two more times, and it’s just slipped away again. I’m not convinced.

Tim: Well, I am. It’s lovely.

Mika feat. Pharrell Williams – Celebrate

Tim: New one off Mika, who was last seen releasing ‘Elle Me Dit’; this was all in French, and, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, got to number one in France, number 17 in Switzerland and entirely failed to chart anywhere else. So we’re back to English for this one, and if you have 3D glasses, try wearing them. I have no idea what might happen, but the video looks like it’ll be special.

Tim: Pretty good, no?

Tom: Mmf. I’ll give it “pretty good”, but I have some issues.

Tim: Really? Because admittedly part of me’s disappointed that he’s left behind a lot of the originality of Grace Kelly and that lot, but if he’s still got tunes like this up his sleeve then I say bring them out.

Tom: Okay, let me explain my reasoning: I love the build-up to the chorus, and the middle-eight – which are basically the same thing. Not the chorus itself: but the bits immediately before “I want the whole world to celebrate”. The last chorus ain’t bad, but the others are just too sparse.

Tim: Hmm, I’d not really noticed that, but now you mention it it does seem a bit off. Not so much that it puts me off, though. One issue I do have, though, is the whole ‘featuring Pharrell Williams’ thing, because he has one sentence in the entire song. Part of me likes that, because, well, we all know my thoughts on rappers interrupting pop songs, but part of me thinks – what’s the point of him being there? He’s got a writing credit as well, and if he’s just responsible for that bit I can’t help thinking Mika’s got slightly ripped off.

Tom: Perhaps it’s to help Mika break America? Just a theory.

Tim: That would not remotely surprise me. Overall, my feeling is still that the less of Pharrell there is the better, so I’m happy. And it’s song called ‘Celebrate’, with the main line being about the whole world celebrating, so what sort of a miserable bastard wouldn’t be happy?

Joe Jonas – Just In Love

Gone straight from “pure and honest” to “creepy and stubbly”

Tom: For anyone who was wondering how long the Jonas Brothers ‘purity ring’ image would last: it’s now officially gone.

Tom: Unfortunately, he appears to have gone straight from “pure and honest” to “creepy and stubbly”.

Tim: Well, he’s not actually broken it – I mean, so far they’re just getting a bit snuggly, and, oh, actually, no they’re fumbling in the club bathroom now, but still it’s not necessarily– oh, yeah now they’re, now they’re in bed. Okay, you win.

Tom: The video’s all unexpectedly arty. You’ll notice the requisite ‘stop people ripping the track from YouTube’ sound-effect break in there, as well. I assume his fans won’t give a damn about either, but for the uninitiated he does look a bit like a wannabe Enrique Iglesias.

As for the music: well, it seems to be entirely forgettable. No doubt the fans will buy it, and it’ll get enough airplay, but I don’t see anyone singing the hook from this into their hairbrush.

Tim: Given the general meh-ness of your writings, and given that you suggested this, I wish to put forth a theory that you only wanted to feature this so you could point out that that oh-we’re-such-good-boys image had failed.

Tom: Well, if Disney hadn’t put so much effort into it…

Tim: Oh, don’t worry, it’s fine.

Evanescence – What You Want

Screw you, society! I’m not part of your system!

Tom: Wait, they’re still going?

Tom: Apparently back after a “hiatus”, still with the same lead singer, and still with that early-2000s shouty feeling to them.

Tim: To me, it sort of seems ‘same old, same old’, but that’s absolutely not a bad thing. I liked them back then. Therefore, I like this.

Tom: I feel a bit like I’m 16 again, listening to this and… well, actually I didn’t have much of a rebellious phase, but I feel like I should start to have one now. Screw you, society! I’m not part of your system!

Tim: Oh please don’t – you’re only embarrassing yourself, you know.

Tom: Can you have a mid-life crisis in your twenties? Anyway – after the track finished, I found that I couldn’t remember the lyrics, and I couldn’t remember the tune – but I do remember the feeling that goes with it, and I rather like it.

Tim: Likewise. Good stuff.