Pet Shop Boys – Burning the heather

“As heather and grass plants become older, they become less palatable and less nutritious. The process of burning small areas removes the older growth and allows the plants to regenerate after the burn.”

Tom: You know it’s going to be a Deep, Artistic Album when bands start playing about with the capitalisation of their tracks.

Tim: Very true, and for the agriculturally challenged amongst us, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust provides a lengthy explainer. Key sentences: “As heather and grass plants become older, they become less palatable and less nutritious. The process of burning small areas removes the older growth and allows the plants to regenerate after the burn.” Now you know that, here’s the new Pet Shop Boys track.

Tim: Now, I don’t want to be accused of taking anything to seriously or anything, but according to that link heather burning typically happens October to April, with the vast majority of it happening in the spring – any earlier, you see, and the ground is dry and it’s harder to control, so the line ‘autumn is here and they’re burning the heather’ is, well, if not entirely incorrect then certainly dubitable, with its implication that we’re round about late August, early September. I just find it difficult to take seriously, really. Though, seriously, what are those lyrics about?

Tom: I’m not entirely sure, and that “hell for leather” lyric lands like a brick through a window. I’ve said here before that Tennant and Lowe are much better producers and remixers than they are pop songwriters. I don’t mean that as an insult: they’ve written some absolute bangers: It’s A Sin, Left To My Own Devices, New York City Boy, Rent, and, yes, more. Those are all good songs. They have a heck of a Greatest Hits album.

But the big, breakthrough, mainstream, radio-play pop hits, the ones they end the concerts with, are covers: Always On My Mind and Go West.

Tim: Huh, I’d never thought of that before, but you’re right. I’d also add The Pop Kids to that list, though.

Tom: So new Pet Shop Boys music needs to be seen in that light: it’s probably not going to be a Big Radio Smash Hit. But it is probably going to be a good song.

Tim: Fair, and it’s worth noting the music’s not bad. Certainly wasn’t what I expected to hear when I pressed play, mind, but then as soon as Neil’s vocals came along I was very “ah, yep there it is” and it sounded okay.

Tom: Yep. Once you manage your expectations of both music and instruments, this is a decent Pet Shop Boys track.

Tim: Dragged on a bit, though. A little bit.

HRVY – Million Ways

“The lyric video.”

Tom: We talked yesterday about how terrible lyrics can ruin a song. In this case, it’s not necessarily the lyrics: it’s specifically the lyric video.

Tom: Repeating half of the syllables of a word is an old trick, and there’s nothing actually wrong with it. But somehow, seeing “milli” it written out like that, with emoji flying by because some designer thought “sure, that’s what kids like, that’ll do”? It highlights what is, when I think about it, actually a pretty bad bit of songwriting: there has to be a better, more clever way of fitting that sentiment into that rhythm, and they didn’t.

Tim: Hmm, I don’t know – I don’t really have a problem with that. Sure, it’s not the best lyrical format, not by a long way, but it is standard enough that it doesn’t annoy me. What does get me (and probably wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t pointed out there was something annoying for me to find, so thanks) is the “I’m a call ya”. Now, I don’t know how that’s meant to be spelt – to be honest, I’m not sure there is an official spelling, but I’m almost certain it’s definitely not as two words implying that HRVY is himself an actual verb.

Tom: I mean, the rest of the song’s good enough, the kids’ll probably like it anyway.

Tim: Hell, I even quite like it, which isn’t something I ever thought I’d say about a HRVY song. Still a stupid name, mind. 

Niall Horan – Nice To Meet Ya

“Solid Middle Of The Road Adult Man Serious Artist Who Attracts Women”

Tom: We’re about a month late to this one — enough to flag it up, not quite enough to make it a Flashback, particularly as it’s the lead single off the still-upcoming second album.

Tim: Good, let’s do it. Care to provide an intro?

Tom: Ladies and gentlemen (but, from the marketing, mostly ladies): please welcome Olly Murs Junior. Or possibly Jeremy Renner Junior, depending on whether you go by sound or look. This is someone whose publicist is emphasising: Solid Middle Of The Road Adult Man Serious Artist Who Attracts Women.

Tom: First of all, full marks to the video director for keeping that eyeline in at 2:48.

Tim: Good video throughout, really.

Tom: But aside from that: who’s this song aimed at? The old teenage 1D fans, moving to a sound that’s more mature? Their mums? The people that downloaded the Jeremy Renner app? Or — and I suspect this is a well-paying demographic — people looking for soundtracks to expensive commercials?

Tim: My guess is the first one (and, sure, the last one) – artists have varied their sounds throughout their career way back to the dawn of time, it’s up to the fans to keep up with it, and ideally the radio stations to keep playing it, which, yep, seems to be happening.

Tom: I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it. It is, literally, easy listening. It also just seems an odd choice, given that he’s in his mid-twenties and not his mid-forties.

Sigrid – Home To You

“There’s a harp.”

Tom: There I was, thinking there was no interesting music to send you: and then I realise we’ve missed Sigrid’s new track. A quick warning: it’s not what you’d expect. There’s a harp.

Tim: Hmm, gosh.

Tom: Once you adjust to the fact that Sigrid — not exactly known for writing love songs — has done a full, proper ballad: well, this is good, isn’t it? There are very few vocalists who have a recognisable vocal quality that lifts them up above session singers. This is both surprisingly traditional and still recognisably Sigrid.

Tim: Can’t disagree with a word of that. I prefer her usual stuff – certainly can’t say I’d like an album of this – but yeah, it’s good ballad.

Tom: Now, I reckon a couple of lines of that beautiful, soaring chorus do owe at least a tip of the hat to the chorus of Lionel Richie’s Hello, but that’s by the by. I still hit ‘play’ a second time.

Tim: Blimey, high praise from you there. And yeah, deserved.

Bastille, Alessia Cara – Another Place

“Brilliant chorus. Shame about the rest of it, really.”

Tom: Bastille and Marshmallo’s Happier is still getting regular airplay, more than a year after release. So it makes sense to do it all over again with someone else.

Tim: Sure, why not.

Tom: Brilliant chorus. Shame about the rest of it, really.

Tim: Yeah – it’s telling that every time I think “oh, this is actually pretty, I’ll ignore what Tom’s just said”, it turns out that it’s just because the chorus has started up.

Tom: I think the difference this time is that, while Alessia Cara has a great voice, that’s all she can bring: she doesn’t have an entire sound and style that can be mashed in with the recognisable vocals. Happier worked before it was, unexpectedly, a good mashup of two sounds, but this: sadly, it’s not enough of an Anthem, and it’s not enough of a Ballad.

Tim: Can’t disagree with any of that, really. Shame.

Alex Järvi – Dina Skor

“I actually did find myself waving my arms in the air.”

Tim: Alex here, singing about Your Shoes, or, rather, the fact that no-one can fill them. How sweet.

Tom: Good heavens, who picked those brass synth pads? They sound like a MIDI keyboard from the 90s. They could afford a choir, but they couldn’t afford an actual trumpet?

Tim: Oh, hush. We’ve almost two songs in one, here – the standard and fairly unremarkable verses, which fortunately make up a comparatively small amount of time, and then OH that GLORIOUS brassy chorus.

Tom: It is a wonderful, schlagery chorus, isn’t it? Full-on, hands-waving-back-and-forth, entirely predictable chord progressions. Not a complaint, that.

Tim: Oh, no – and during the middle of the final three choruses I actually did find myself waving my arms in the air. It’s a jubilant sound, which is somewhat bizarre given the lyrics: basic narrative is that she left him because he was a dick; he’s now saying that he’s getting off with new girls left right and centre, but none of them are quite as good so can she come back. TRIUMPHANT BRASS!

Tom: Amazing. I wonder if there’s anyone in the world that would work on?

Tim: I’ve been trying to think, to make a snarky comment, but nope, I’ve got nothing. To be honest, though, I don’t care that the sound doesn’t fit, because it’s bloody wonderful to listen to, and really just over all too quickly.

Tom: Just… maybe they should hire an actual brass section.

SKAAR – Five Times

“Loud and thrashy and intense”

Tim: YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID, Tom. YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID.

Tom: I mean, yes, I do, but I’m fairly sure you don’t.

Tim: Maybe not, but SKAAR reckons she does.

Tom: And I’m fairly sure she doesn’t either.

Tim: Oh, well that shows her. Apparently this is an anthem to “all the women out there that think men should own up to their own shit”, and having just watched an episode of The Apprentice where one guy said “yeah, one second darling” to his female team-mate and got no pushback about it whatsoever, I’m all for that.

Tom: Well, that’s one of the worst paragraphs we’ve had here for a while. Pity about the music, though.

Tim: You think? Because I think this is a message that is massively boosted when it comes with such an enormous backing to it, loud and thrashy and intense, that means there can be absolutely no misunderstanding about it. Helpfully, it’s one I love as well.

Tom: I just wish I actually liked the song! “Loud and thrashy and intense” isn’t something I actually want to listen to.

Tim: Oh. Well, for me: strong message, strong music, love it.

Michel Young – 70s80s90s

“I liked it! It’s pretty good!”

Tim: Single take video for you here, though I’m almost certain they didn’t keep the camera running for three minutes and thirteen seconds.

Tim: So, we’ve a guy walking up a street singing his song, camera constantly on him, so far so standard. Except – his hair’s moving weirdly slowly, and I’m sure dogs’ tails normally wag faster than that. I played with the settings, though, and it turns out that if you play it at 1.5x, it seems much more normal. So, best guess: camera guy’s also carrying a speaker, song playing from it unusually quickly, and he’s doing his best to mouth along to it? Quite why you’d do that I don’t really know – my only thought is that maybe they couldn’t find a backstreet in Stockholm that takes three minutes to walk up?

Tom: It’s a stylistic thing, and it’s really common in music videos! Most of them are filmed a little bit off-framerate: it’s the look. Here, have this video demonstrating it.

Tim: Huh, I’d not noticed it before. Nice work with the self-plug, though. Back to here: music’s good as well, isn’t it?

Tom: Even if I do keep wanting to sing “I just came to say hello” over that verse. You’re not wrong, though: there’s a lot of clever production tricks, and it’s doing that same interesting-chord-progression thing that the Killers did back in their early albums.

Tim: Nice bit of strong beat dance pop, lyrics are largely meaningless, but the melody’s good, the production’s lovely and everything’s nice to hear, really.

Tom: I wasn’t sure about that middle eight the first time I heard it: on a second listen, knowing was coming, I think it works. And the key part of that sentence: second listen. I liked it! It’s pretty good!

Tim: However fast we play it.

Au/Ra x Alan Walker – Ghost

“Oh.”

Tim: Not sure I’ll ever really understand the differences between &, ‘and’, x, a comma and any other way of indicating a pairing between artists, but never mind that. This is another one from that Death Stranding game that the recent CHVRCHES one came from (which, incidentally, I relistened to recently and realised I quite like). Let’s see how this one goes.

Tim: Oh.

Tom: Yep. I know that tap-tap-tap percussion style’s been popular for years, but ever since someone described it to me as “like someone failing to light a gas hob” it’s basically been ruined for me.

Tim: Well. I guess, the melody’s nice? And her vocal’s fine. And…and…and this really does nothing for me. Sure, maybe it’ll fit the mood (though I’m certainly not tempted by this to buy the game to find out), but without any context it’s just quiet, a bit dull, and not remotely what I was expecting when I saw those names together. Balls.

Tom: And that’s a shame! That’s always the problem for artists who want to make Something Different: it’s not what the fans were expecting.

Tim: Maybe I’ll like this one in a few weeks’ time as well? Hope so.

Tom: I doubt it.

Måns Zelmerlöw – On My Way

“One of the loveliest melodies I’ve heard in a while.”

Tim: Måns’s latest album came out the other week, and I’ve just got round to listening to it; pleasingly, it’s got some pretty good numbers on it, some of which we’ve already covered. This one is the first track, though, and it starts out with some rather fruity language, given who he’s singing it to.

Tom: Oh. Yes. Yes, you’re not wrong there.

Tim: I’ll be honest, I’ve no idea how the lyrics in the chorus relate to the lyrics in the verse, unless he’s doing a dialogue-style duet with himself, which’d be weird.

Tom: That is actually how I read it! I assumed it was ‘advice to past self’, but I suppose it could also be ‘I haven’t got it figured out either, kid’.

Tim: Well, whichever it is, never mind that because that chorus has one of the loveliest melodies I’ve heard in a while. Thing is, it starts out pretty good anyway with the opening “I’m on my way!” line, but then when the flowing “I know it’s only…” arrives it suddenly becomes even better. As for the rest of it: well, it’s fine.

Tom: Alas, the chorus just doesn’t work that well for me, which means that… well, yes. “Fine” about sums it up, which is a shame.

Tim: Nothing brilliant, but nothing that could be described as bad. Well, except for maybe that artwork, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Tom: One observation: it sounds very weird to hear very British-southern long vowels in Måns’ voice. “Dis-arse-ster” just doesn’t seem right somehow.

Tim: Well, let’s just play the chorus again.