Almighty Pop Factor – When We Collide

It’s probably a good thing that most Biffy Clyro fans will never hear this.

Tim: For those that don’t know the story: about a year ago Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro came out with Many of Horror, which some fans liked and some fans felt wasn’t as good as the rest of their stuff, mostly because it was less rocky and too mainstream. Eleven months later, Matt Cardle wins The X Factor with a cover of it, retitled as the more family-friendly When We Collide, at which point all the Biffy Clyro fans remarked that it was in fact their best song ever and that Matt Cardle was the son of Satan.

Tom: True as that may be, it’s your typical hands-in-the-air winner’s song.

Tim: And now, as regularly happens with X Factor winners (and, indeed, many other songs) the good folk at Almighty Records have produced their own version, and to be honest it’s probably a good thing that most Biffy Clyro fans will never hear this.

Tom: Oh, Almighty Records, you wonderful people.

Tim: I’ll be honest: I’m a little disappointed.

Tom: Even with the…

Tim: Well, yes, it has the ridiculous and almost barely believable key change that we’ve come to expect, and I think the chiming bells work well, but something seems not quite right. For one, I think it would work better with a male vocalist.

Tom: Have Almighty ever used a male vocalist? I don’t think so. I’d like to hear what they could do with one, though.

Tim: Another thing is that it also seems to be constantly on the verge of fading out, at least whenever there’s an instrumental part. Then even the key change seems like it’s more of a formality than anything else – as though the producer thought ‘Oh, we’d better do that, hadn’t we? Erm, what can we do with it…tell you what, let’s put this effect here, turn that end up a bit, and that should do it. Anyone for the pub?’

Tom: Now you put it that way, I see what you mean – I don’t think I’ve ever heard them actually pitch-bend the whole bit of music before. It’s vaguely unsettling.

Tim: Don’t get me wrong – it’s not bad, obviously. But it’s certainly no You Raise Me Up, that’s for certain.

Tim: Because one key change just isn’t enough.

Tom: It never is, Tim. It never is.

Britney Spears – Hold It Against Me

How about we take a quick break from the usual?

Tim: Well, the final version of the new Britney single got leaked yesterday and the whole music internet and his dog is talking about it – how about we take a quick break from the usual and have a look at it?

Tom: Go for it. What do you think, Tim?

Tim: CAN’T STAND: the dubstep bits, which sort of includes the verses and definitely includes the first half of the bridge, which is absolutely not my type of thing.

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF: the rest of it. This includes the choruses and the second part of the bridge, which will have lasers and smoke machines and hands in the air in any self-respecting club, and everything later than that.

That is what I think, and because it ends on a high, the positiveness wins over.

Tom: I have yet to find a dubstep track that I like, which is strange – normally, even in genres I don’t like, there are a couple of tracks that I’ll still enjoy. Dubstep? Not one, yet. It completely kills the energy in the bridge: there’s even a ramp up to it and then it just dies. That second half of the bridge, though, with the sparse drum hits? That’s bloody amazing. I want to dance to that.

Tim: Oh, and apparently if you, like me, thought you knew how to pronounce ‘hazy’, you were quite clearly wrong.

Tom: Tim, I have a degree in linguistics, I know the International Phonetic Alphabet, and I’m not sure I could transcribe what she sang there. I’m not sure those vowels are used in any human language. Perhaps she’s signalling the mothership.

Le Kid – Mr Brightside

A present to keep their fans happy.

Tim: No soapy sailors this time round, as this is a free track off their website rather than an actual single – a present to keep their fans happy until they bring new stuff out in February.

Tom: Now, I really liked the bubblegum pop sound they had last time round – how much of that was due to attractive lead singers in low-cut outfits, I’m not sure, but I ended up listening to that track a lot of times. Hopefully this one’s similar.

Tom: Oh yes.

Tim: Not half bad, really, and remarkably different from The Killers’ original, in the backing instrumentation at least.

Tom: The first few notes of it gave me a bit of worry, but I needn’t have – it’s a great cover of a great song; when all the electronic gubbins kicks in on “Jealousy–“, I just burst out into a smile.

It’s basically into repeat-until-fade half way through, and – most disappointingly – it doesn’t use the “I never–” refrain to end it. I like that part, if only because every time I hear it I think Brandon Flowers is singing “PAELLA.”

Tim: Of course you do. Needless to say, fans of The Killers won’t like it much, but we’re not here for them. We’re here because we like happy camp music, and this is very much it.

Tom: Damn right.

Saturday Flashback: Roxette – Stars

During the final chorus, everything just clicked together.

Tim: Much like yesterday’s Lili & Susie, here’s an act from the olden days with a new single out.

Tom: Blimey, really?

Tim: Oh yes, but that single, She’s Got Nothing On (But The Radio), has rather rudely been taken off YouTube.

Tom: That’s a pity, because that title has a lot of promise.

Tim: Doesn’t it just? Anyway, let’s take a look at this instead from 1999, in which we can see the effectiveness of aggressive singing.

Tim: This wasn’t as successful as many of her other tracks, but now sounds considerably less dated than most.

Tom: I’ll agree with you there – I wouldn’t have placed this as being over a decade old.

Tim: Also it has a children’s choir in the chorus, and that’s always fun.

Tom: No they’re not! They’re horrible. There’s never been a good song with a children’s choir in it, with the exception of William Shatner’s cover of Common People.

Tim: Oh, please.

Tom: I know what that link is before I click it. It’s the St. Winifred’s School Choir, isn’t it? There’s only one good performance of that, and it’s the time they were on Tiswas.

Tim: Man, you’re mean. Anyway, if you fancy something a bit more energetic, try a recent Almighty 7″ Mix, although I prefer this – it’s dance-y enough, and the choruses are much better.

Tom: I wasn’t really feeling this song until the final chorus, during which everything just clicked together for some reason. This is lovely.

Tim: A few things about the video:

  • If I was that bloke, I’d be more likely to get a restraining order than an engagement ring.
  • It’s a slight shame she couldn’t learn the words to the chorus before they started filming.

Tom: But the ducks, Tim! How could you not have immediately mentioned the ducks who quack in time with the lyrics?

Tim: Oh, good lord – how could I not have noticed that? It’s incredible. It may, however, be that my mind was still reeling from her dancing at about 1:12. This can only be described as utterly exquisite, especially when it looks like her head is going to fall off. I tried to imitate it it, but my neck just refused to bend that far.

Tom: That must be CGI. Surely that’s CGI? Wait. 1999. Damn.

Lili & Susie – Kom Och Ta Oss

Energetic, danceable, vibrant – generally everything a good piece of schlager should be.

Tim: These two sisters have been going for well over twenty years now, although they’re not producing much these days – their last was Show Me Heaven in Melodifestivalen a couple of years back; now, they bring us this.

Tim: Lyrically, I have no idea what this is all about, although the title – which translates to ‘Come and Find Me’ – suggests it’s some sort of game of Hide and Seek; having said that, the song seems a bit loud to be singing in that situation so it’s probably not that.

Tom: I’m clearly a bit immature, because I’m hearing the title as “Come And Toss” every time they sing it. I’ll set that aside.

Tim: Yeah, I think that would be best. So, we’re stuck judging the music alone, and that’s not a bad thing, really, since the music’s quite good.

Tom: It’s a bit anthemic, isn’t it? There’s a hell of a lot going on, and that’s not a bad thing.

Tim: Certainly isn’t. The voices hold up nicely, and the blokes joining in at the end add a bit of gravity, should you feel that’s what it needs.

Tom: I’m not even sure it counts as schlager – yes, it’s three minutes long and from Scandinavia, but you couldn’t call this bubblegum pop by any means.

Tim: Ah, but the non-vocal part is energetic, danceable, vibrant – generally everything a good piece of schlager should be. And that is, after all, what we are here to celebrate.

Sonohra – There’s A Place For Us

They actually seem to be enjoying themselves.

Tim: Chances are, you’ve heard that the third Chronicles of Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has just been released.

Tom: The third? I missed the second entirely. Anyway, if this has spawned anything half as good as Lazy Sunday, I’ll be happy.

Tim: Well, this song is from the soundtrack. Sort of. It’s slightly odd: the official recording artist is Carrie Underwood, who put together a not altogether bad version, but alongside that various other acts from around the world have recorded their own versions, presumably for the noble cause that is selling more copies of the soundtrack. These acts include Sweden’s E.M.D. (who actually managed to perform a very good live version, if a little shaky on the vocals), Britain’s Joe McElderry (who decided that one song wasn’t enough for him and did a somewhat better second one as well, especially if you quite liked the weird auto-tune fake backing singers effect on Ambitions) and Germany’s Victoria S (who, appropriately for the season, decided to dress up as a Christmas tree decoration).

Tom: Five versions of the same song? That’s a challenge even for me. Particularly with a song like that.

Tim: Yes – by and large, unfortunately, it’s not all that great. Somehow all of these separate groups/singers have taken what could (and indeed should) be a very emotional song, and seemingly stripped it of almost all feeling whatsoever.

Tom: Well, it’s a kids’ movie song. It’s not going to make adults that emotional. Apart from the ending of An American Tail. That can floor anyone and it is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE to cry at it, okay?

Tim: Um, yes. Yes Tom. But even if this is a kids; movie, when the lyrics are ‘We could be the kings and queens, of anything if we believe’, I want to be made to run to the kitchen, grab some tin foil, and make myself a crown.

Tom: You don’t need a song to do that, Tim.

Tim: Anyway, Sonohra, an Italian duo, did better than most.

Tim: What is it about this one that I like? I don’t know. Their voices work well on it, which helps – it seems to work better for me in a lower register – and the instrumentation’s quite a bit louder and especially noticeable in the re-entry after the bridge, which helps create a song you can properly nod your head to. Most of all, though, they actually seem to be enjoying themselves a bit, which always comes in handy.

Tom: It’s the rocky-bit during the first half of the chorus – the ‘kings and queens’ bit – that stands out for me. The rest is generic movie-soundtrack rubbish, and sadly one awesome bit of melody isn’t enough to save the whole song for me.

Tim: Hmm, fair point, I suppose, but I like it.

Tom: And I’ve just realised why I like it – it’s almost exactly the same as the good bit from Robyn’s Call Your Girlfriend. “The only way her heart will mend”, and all that. It’s a sudden descending major-key bit that stands out. At this point, I which I knew more about music theory.

Tim: Ooh, it is and all, isn’t it? Anyway, sod this – you’re right, I don’t need a song. Now where did I put the Pritt Stick? And has anyone got a throne I can borrow?

Alexandra Burke – The Silence

Vastly better than many of her previous offerings.

Tim: When Alexandra Burke won The X Factor two years back, most people who voted for JLS got all huffy and presumed she was going to be a Leona Lewis 2.0, especially what with the way her version of Hallelujah sounded. However, she came back with Bad Boys and a run of various other singles and proved them all decisively wrong. And now she’s done this and proved them right.

Tim: And that, actually, is no bad thing whatsoever, because I think this is great, and vastly better than many of her previous offerings (partially because it’s entirely devoid of references to masturbation). It is big, it is emotional, it is exactly what it wants to be – it is, overall, excellent. I’m not sure if it’s a proper change of direction or just a one-off; either way, I like it a lot.

Tom: We need to find a word for that feeling where a song’s predictable enough that you’re sure you’ve heard it before. That’s not really a complaint – the song is, frankly, a belter and it fits her voice perfectly. And what a key change!

Tim: Isn’t it just? And that’s another thing we need to find a word for – that bit in a song which exists solely to get the listener excited about the upcoming key change. Previously, I thought not much could beat Bellefire’s Perfect Bliss, but this four and a half second monster sends it flying right out of the water and into a tiny duck pond.

Tom: That’s a terrible metaphor, by the way.

Tim: It is, isn’t it? Oh well.

Tom: But that change-warning is longer than you think – from the start of the swoosh sound to when the new key actually kicks in is a full nine seconds. That’s got to be a record.

Tim: Is it an appalling musical device? Yes, definitely. But is it absolutely fantastic here? Yes, definitely.

Hilda – Just One Wish

Wouldn’t sound out of place at a Miley Cyrus gig.

Tim: A second artist in two days with an apparent allergy to surnames, Hilda got her break presenting on the Swedish Disney Channel (much like Eric Saade), and is now making a foray into music with this, which wouldn’t sound out of place at a Miley Cyrus gig.

Tom: With that introduction echoing, the first thing that went through my mind on seeing this – and I feel so guilty for this – was “blimey, Miley Cyrus has put on some weight”. It’s a terrible thought, and I’m not happy with what that reveals about my subconscious. Also, it means that Miley Cyrus must be a damn stick insect.

Tim: This isn’t bad – it’s not a jingly-jangly sleigh bells all over the place track, which is a bit of a shame when the lyrics are so festive, but it does mean it can go on an album and not sound too out of place, I suppose.

Tom: It’s a cut above most modern pop Christmas songs – but what gets me is that it’s such an American Christmas song. Okay, that’s probably due to the Disney backing, and admittedly Tomte wouldn’t work quite as well as Santa in the lyrics… but damn it Disney, stop homogenising everything.

Tim: So, now we can get away with remarkably offensive thought processes as long as we demonstrate some in-depth knowledge of the culture of the person we’ve insulted? I must remember that.

Anyway, speaking of the lyrics, they’re not the most appropriate ever for a 14-year-old, although her age does mean she can get away with the line ‘Santa, if you do exist’.

Tom: …no she can’t.

Danny Saucedo – In Your Eyes

He does a similar trick to Robyn.

Tim: E.M.D. are a Swedish boyband formed a while ago out of three Idol finalists, none of whom won it but each of whom was fairly competent and had vague solo success, but decided they could do better as a band. They are, if you like, a Scandinavian One Direction, two years earlier.

Anyway, right now that’s not particularly relevant. What is relevant is that the D. out of E.M.D.* is releasing this on Friday to remind us that he does exist as a solo artist in his own right, in preparation for entering Melodifestivalen next year.

* Creative naming at its finest there – the other two are Erik and Mattias.

Tom: Just before the chorus, I thought “ooh, this is about to kick in properly, isn’t it?” … and then it didn’t. It stayed exactly the same. Disappointment.

Tim: Perhaps. He does a similar trick to Robyn and a few others – trying to create the impression of the track kicking in by dipping slightly beforehand. Often that doesn’t work at all, but sometimes it does, and I think this is one of those times – the beat’s still heavy enough to satisfy as a chorus, even if it’s no bigger than the verse was.

I also like the post-bridge moment, which provides a whimsical touch for anybody who might find it dragging a bit.

Tom: Yes, but he’s pronounced ‘fire’ as two syllables and ‘desire’ as three – “fi-yah” and “desi-yah“. That irritates me for some reason – and now I’ve brought it to your attention, it’ll annoy you too.

Tim: It doesn’t, actually, mainly because it’s quite hard to pronounce -ire as one syllable anyway, especially if you’re singing.

The one really bad thing about it, though, is that video, which was clearly made by someone who should never ever have been introduced to Windows Movie Maker.

Hurts – All I Want for Christmas is New Year’s Day

Oh my word, that’s lovely.

Tim: Now then, Tom. Imagine: you’re a songwriter, you’re not so keen on Christmas right now, for one reason or another, and you want to tell the world.

Tom: This had better be good, Tim. I don’t like new Christmas records as a general rule.

Tim: Do you (a) make a track about how life isn’t great and that hopefully soon the trouble will pass, or (b) make a track about how life isn’t great and that hopefully soon the trouble will pass that’s so incredibly festive that there is no way it cannot fail to bring back Christmas memories? Well, guess what Hurts did.

Tom: Oh my word, that’s lovely.

Tim: Isn’t it? I love it – partly it’s because I really like Christmas music, and if I had the power I would pass a law decreeing that chiming bells must be used in all music releases.

Tom: Don’t ever do that. It’d mean that the proper use of them, like this, wouldn’t be special any more. Normally in Christmas music bells are chucked in at the end, just to add the ‘right feeling’ in there, but they just fit so well here.

Tim: Fair point. Guess I may as well put my political career on hold, then. Anyway, I also love this because it fits with the Hurts formula that I think is superb: entirely contrasting moods of music and lyrics, massive chorus, and vaguely optimistic outlook – ‘I know there’ll be tidings of joy this time next year but happiness has never felt so far away’.

Tom: ‘And all I want for Christmas is New Year’s Day.’ As I write this, I’m tired, and so I’m likely to be a bit more emotional than my normal cynical dry-husk self… but that just hit me right in the heart. See? I just used italics, for crying out loud.

Tim: However, minor annoyance: ‘It’s only seven days till Christmas, six more till New Years Day’. LEARN TO COUNT. They’re even the same day of the week; how hard can it be?

Tom: I’m even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this; there’s six days between the end of Christmas and the start of New Years’ Day, and I think that’s just fine.

Tim: I guess you’re right. It is a bloody marvellous song, though, so I will happily overlook it. Just this once, though.

Tom: This is going to be my Christmas song for this year. I’m not sure what I’ll be getting up to, but whatever it is, this song is always going to bring back memories of it. Well done, Hurts. Well done.

Tim: Absolutely. And you know what the best thing of all is? They’ve gone and been all lovely and have decided that, since it’s Christmas, for the next seven days anybody with an iTunes account can get it absolutely free.