NorthKid – Firefly

“All the necessary bits are there.”

Tim: New boyband off the north of Norway, nice and deep inside the Arctic circle; presumably that’s where the name comes from. Here’s their opening number.

Tim: Pretty good, right?

Tom: I was going to say “meh” until that quiet pre-chorus; that actually made me sit up and listen.

Tim: They are Helge, Bilal, Håkon, Sebastian and Vegard, and pleasingly they all seem fairly competent, always a bonus. One of them’s already been described as ‘the Zayn of the group’, which feels a bit like tempting fate to me but there you go, it’s done now.

Tom: See, that just means “first to leave” to me, but never mind.

Tim: Well, indeed. Whatever happens in the future, though, we can only judge them right now on the material they put out, and so far it’s looking promising – melody, instrumentation, production, vocals, all the necessary bits are there.

Tom: And yet, that’s not unqualified praise from either of us. When the best part is the quiet pre-chorus, I can’t give it anything more than what you said earlier: COMPETENT.

Tim: I’m not sure I’d personally choose to put this forth as a lead track to hold an album up, so hopefully there’s something a little better or more special to come later, but I’ll take it for now.

Cajsa Siik – White Noise (Forêt de Vin’s 1988 Edit)

“That was the sound of 80s-fatigue setting in for me, I think.”

Tim: Just been sent this, a remix of a track from May that we never got round to featuring. As you may be able to guess from the title, it’s kind of a ‘let’s put it back in time thirty years’ event.

Tom: That was the sound of 80s-fatigue setting in for me, I think.

Tim: Maybe, but it’s still quite nice, really, even without knowing the original – that tinkly swooshy middle eight in particular is very lovely indeed.

Tom: You’re not wrong about that — it’s lovely — but it now feels like the world has been through the 80s twice, and I’m not sure we really need to keep going. There are quite a few decades out there. I just can’t find anything to grab onto here, if that makes sense; it just sounds like some stock music that’d be in the back of an 80s soap. Nothing wrong with it, just nothing interesting either.

Tim: To be honest, even with knowing the original this is such a reworking it’s almost like a new song, and a good new song at that. Gentle vocals, nice flowing melody and all in all a rather nice listen. I like it.

Pink – Beautiful Trauma

“Controversial opinion: this is best Pink song in years.”

Tom: I’m embedding the audio version because I don’t want the video to colour your view of it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great (and risqué, and uncensored) video, but to me this track stands really well on its own.

Tom: Controversial opinion: this is best Pink song in years, and (for me at least) one of the best tracks of the year. Calm intro, driving verse, incredible chorus. I’ve had this on repeat, several times in a row; it takes a lot for a song to do that to me.

Tim: You’re not far off there – certainly a damn good track, though the slight disjointedness of it spoils it a bit for me, travelling jarringly so often between gentle piano and rock chorus.

Tom: There’s one other thing I want to talk about today, though: the official videos for this are all the uncensored, f-bomb-filled versions, and they’re not labelled as explicit. I think this may be a sign of a tipping point — it’s just accepted that pop songs are going to have swearing now, and if you don’t like it… well, you can deal with it.

Tim: Agh, bloody kids of today, no morals or standards.

Tom: Also worth noting: Pink, singing live, while dancing sideways on the outside of a hotel a dozen stories in the air. For me, that was actually jaw-dropping.

Tim: Okay, yeah, I’ll give you that. That is good.

Keala Settle – This Is Me

“So polished that you could slip on it and crack your head.”

Tim: So I got quite excited when I heard they were making a film about P. T. Barnum, because he was a fascinating character and it has the potential to be a great story, and then I heard this song in the trailer.

Tim: Oh, isn’t it great? I mean, the film’s been in development for seven years, so you’d hope the songs would be quite polished, but still.

Tom: Blimey, that has almost every inspirational song trope there is. Military drums, backing gospel choir, big major key oh-way-ohs. That’s so polished that you could slip on it and crack your head.

Tim: Bit of context: Keala is the actress playing the show’s bearded lady who’s finally found a place for herself, and my word does it sound good. Melody, backing choir (oh, that backing choir), strong vocal, inspiring but not twee lyrics, memorable hook – it has everything, including that tempting replay button at the end.

Tom: You forgot the Meaningfully Quiet Middle Eight, and the (very good) high notes in the final chorus. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a cynic, but I listen to this and — while I can appreciate all the work that’s gone into it — it does just leave me a bit cold. Yes, well done songwriters, you have ticked all the boxes.

Tim: They so have. My favourite part? That DUM-DUM halfway through the second verse, which adds to everything else as a YES PAY ATTENTION moment, and it’s great. Fabulous song – fingers crossed for the film.

Scavenger Hunt – Eyes Wide Open

“It’s been a while since I’ve heard anything I’ve just…enjoyed as much as I do this.”

Tim: Dan and Jill met in LA writing TV adverts, and it all sort of snowballed from there apparently. Here’s their new one, a BEAUTY.

Tim: Now that strikes me as an exceptional piece of pop music. The first few notes sounded good, and when the intro kicked in, that’s a fantastic section – melody, beat, instrumentation, everything. Quietish for the verses but still lurking, still strong, still beating, and then when the chorus comes along it turns the dial up, everything improves, and then the post-chorus comes along and it goes all in, POUNDING AWAY.

Tom: Phrasing. But yes, you’re not wrong: I, as ever, am a little less enthusiastic, but that’s true of almost every song we talk about here. It’s good, it’s not exceptional: it feels like someone’s trying to do a Carly Rae Jepsen track but not quite getting there.

Tim: Yes, but that’s a high bar to set – if you’re heading for perfection but don’t quite make it, that’s still damn good.

Tom: Perhaps, if I’d never heard any of the tracks off E•MO•TION, I’d think this was spectacular — as it is, it feels like one from the B-Sides album, and then, only just.

Tim: But again, though: ‘not quite Carly Rae Jepsen’ is still a good place to be. The middle eight is low key, exactly as expected, setting the scene nicely for a final chorus section, which we are indeed duly rewarded with. Put short: this whole song is fantastic, and it’s been a while since I’ve heard anything I’ve just…enjoyed as much as I do this.

Tom: Huh. Well, I can’t argue with your reaction there, even if I didn’t get the same.

Tim: Although…there is that ending. Now I’ve got no problems with an abrupt ending – I’ll take that over a laborious repeat to fade any day – but this is too abrupt. At least, you know, finish the word you’re singing. This sounds less planned and more someone actually hitting the delete button accidentally, and it grates a lot. But the 3 minutes and 47 seconds leading up to that? Masterful.

Saturday Flashback: Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On (Tony Moran Remix)

“Flipping brilliant”

Tim: Today marks twenty years since the release of this seminal track, and so let’s celebrate, because (a) it’s got a fairly interesting back story and (b) it has a flipping brilliant dance remix.

Tom: You’re right about the second part, but I didn’t know about the first.

Tim: Well, I’m fairly sure everyone knows the second, but let’s play it again anyway.

Tim: So here’s the thing: no-one involved really wanted this to happen.

Tom: Wait, the remix, or the original track?

Tim: Oh, the original – I would hope everyone involved wanted the remix. Celine Dion didn’t want to do another film soundtrack after Beauty and the Beast…

Tom: I’d forgotten she did that! To me, that’s always sung by Angela Lansbury — and yes, it was her singing in the movie, they didn’t bring in a vocalist for it. Anyway. Yes.

Tim: Huh, didn’t realise that either. But it wasn’t just her – James Cameron didn’t want to end Titanic with a pop song over the credits. But then James Horner, the composer, went up to Celine’s Vegas hotel room and started playing it, and she said “oh fine, I’ll do a demo for you”.

Fast forward to the demo recording, and no-one was really in the right mood – it was half nine in the evening, they’d all had a big dinner, Celine was getting stomach pains, but the producers said “go on, just give it a go, think about the film plot and we’ll see what happens”. And she did, and it was absolutely perfect. No need for a second recording, no multiple takes – just one flawless performance that left everyone somewhat speechless.

Tom: No kidding. I had no idea. That’s a heck of a vocal talent.

Tim: Admittedly you can’t quite hear the subtle nuances of it with this remix, but that “you’re…here…” into the final chorus can surely be agreed upon as one of the most impressive vocal moments of all time, on a par with Whitney Houston’s “and I” moment from I Will Always Love You.

In short: this song is ruddy fantastic, and anyone who disagrees is a total bellend.

Madden & Chris Holsten – All About You

“A bit like a clucking chicken”

Tim: I heard Madden’s excellent track Alive recently, and thought to myself “hmm, I wonder if Madden’s done anything else recently” and then it turns out he has. To be more precise, this, which as it happens came out just a couple of weeks back. (Oh, and the HD version of the video is at 50fps, so if you find that as distracting as I do, you might want to switch down.)

Tim: I swear, I’ll never get used to it. But the song? Well, it didn’t start promisingly, because in late 2017 that is, let’s be honest, a fairly generic voice/synth style. With competition like this, you’ve got to be very special to pull that off well, and, again let’s be honest, most of this isn’t.

Tom: And that chorus is very much a “yeah, I see what you were going for there”. A little Random Access Memories, a little… well, a little of a lot of things.

Tim: HOWEVER (and it is a however that deserves the capital letters), when the instrumental breakdown comes along (well, if we’re counting distorted vocal samples as an instrument), it picks up quite a bit, and the rest of the song from that point on is very enjoyable.

Tom: Takes a long time to get there, though, doesn’t it? More than half the song. It’s basically a song where the middle eight is better than everything else, and that’s not a good thing.

Tim: Yes – it would be vastly improved if that middle eight was brought out to be a standard post-chorus. As it is…hmm.

Tom: Also, counterpoint: those vocal samples sound a bit like a clucking chicken.

Tim: OH MY GOD they do and now every part of it is problematic. Thanks, thanks a lot.

Dannii Minogue – Galaxy

“There’s really not a huge amount that’s of interest on here.

Tom: “My first music video for 10 years!” starts the YouTube description enthusiastically, just under the bit where it says something close to “25,000 views”. Harsh.

Tom: I haven’t heard piano synths like that in a while. They’re good, if a bit retro — well, heck, all the production is a bit retro.

Tim: Yeah – most artists might like to update their sounds slightly, to keep vaguely in line with modern trends. Not Dannii, though.

Tom: Nothing wrong with that, mind, it’s just that — with the exception of the piano bit — the rest of the melody lines just aren’t up to much.

Tim: Can’t deny that, sadly – there’s really not a huge amount that’s of interest on here.

Tom: She’s hitting the notes just fine, they’re just not particularly nice notes to listen to.

Tim: Oh, that’s very harsh. It’s not offensive – I just don’t think I’d choose to listen to it.

Saturday Flashback: Maroon 5 – One More Night

“Pity the poor live drummers, though. “

Tim: We’ve remarked previously that Rihanna’s Umbrella doesn’t have its own unique backing, but does in fact share it with (the much much better) Symphonies by Dan Black and, indeed, anyone else who’s ever used Apple’s “Vintage Funk Kit 03“.

Tim: And I don’t quite know how it took me so long to recognise that, given that it’s their third most successful song ever.

Tom: The thing is, neither did I. Maybe it’s the change in tempo, or maybe there’s a change in emphasis. Pity the poor live drummers who’ll have to just repeat that Apple drum loop over and over again, though.

Tim: Funny old world, pop music, isn’t it?

Liam Payne – Bedroom Floor

“Do I want to hear it again? Obviously, no.”

Tom: A vague pineapple scent wafts in.

Tim: Oh. Oh, there are some interesting words there. And vocal effects. And a half-arsed attitude to the tropical genre. And that haircut, mate, you’re not Manchester in the 90s.

Tom: I made a list of all the lyrics that annoyed me in the first verse. The “Baby / lately” rhyme. “Real real nice real nice things”, which is just stuttering so it vaguely fits the rhythm that’s needed. “Real real real real real”, which is just lazy. The words “iPhone, iPhone rings”, followed by what actually sounds like him imitating an iPhone.

Tim: Yeah, it was the iPhone one that really got me. Just, eurgh.

Tom: I mean, there’s the autotune too, but by this point I was ready to give up the song as a bad job, but that pre-chorus was just a little bit promising. Then I heard the chorus, and its seemingly-endless repetition, and basically gave up. If you’re going to repeat just one chorus line, make sure you’ve got more than one note in it.

Tim: Oh no that’s not fair – it goes at least one note up at the end of the last line each time, let’s give him that.

Tom: My two signs of a good pop song: first, do I want to hear it again? Here, obviously, no. But second, can I sing the chorus after one listen? And here, yes I can. So while I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s good… I suspect it might do well anyway.