KEiiNO – I Wanna Dance With Somebody

“The fact I played it several times is a very, very strong endorsement from me.”

Tom: The “2020 Global Pride Song”, apparently. It’s a choice that seems both genius and obvious in hindsight: pick a Eurovision darling, and get them to cover an absolute banger.

Tom: We’ve talked before about how KEiiNO are basically required to put some sort of joik in there, even when it doesn’t really fit. And… well, I don’t think it really fits here.

Tim: No. Although, it does fit better than when it’s awkwardly shoved in to replace a lyric line in the chorus – here, it just sounds like some weird instrument they’ve dug up to stick in the post-chorus.

Tom: It could’ve worked if it was more integrated as part of the song, perhaps telegraphed early on in the introduction — but Dance With Somebody is so well recognised that just changing the lyrics and timing in one place like this is going to feel wrong no matter what you do.

Tim: Ah, see with the timing I very much do agree with you – in fact, that’s one of the main reasons that, overall, I’m not keen on this, upsettingly. The other, though, is that the build through the verse and the chorus just, for me, doesn’t lead into enough. Along with the join, there should be another bit – not sure what, but the sole “somebody whooo” doesn’t really seem enough.

Tom: Now, I did play this multiple times, and I did get used to the change. And the fact I played it several times is a very, very strong endorsement from me: and it’s because absolutely everything else about this is so good. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, it’s impeccably produced, and somehow they’re able to get a wall-of-sound effect working through modern compression. It’s a really good track.

Tim: Hmm. I mean. I can’t disagree with any of the specifics you’ve got there – I think it’s missing, say, an extra two lines of instrumental. Give me that, I’m happy. Without it, sadly all I can manage is a gentle ehh.

Annie – American Cars

“There is something about that chorus, isn’t there?”

Tim: Annie, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a Norwegian who did electropop and synth pop from the early 90s and then just stopped about five years ago, and everyone got very disappointed and basically gave up hope. But NOW she’s back, with a whole album co-produced with Stefan off The Sound of Arrows announced for September and this as the lead single, HURRAH.

Tom: Right, so as usual: you’ll love it, and I’ll be put off my how slow and ethereal it is.

Tim: Perhaps, because, well, if you thought dreampop was dreamy before, brace yourself.

Tom: Huh. So here’s the thing: I was all set to really dislike that from the intro, because it is just the epitome of every retro “80s recreated with modern tech” track out there… but there is something about that chorus, isn’t there?

Tim: There is, yes – see, I had an interesting thought journey along that: started out with “ooh, yes, this is lovely and absolutely what I want right now”, and “oh this chorus is just DELIGHTFUL” then “wait, have they just stuck some vocals on the Stranger Things theme for the verse” and finally, at the two minute mark, “ah, nope, this is exactly the reason I pay £7.99 a month for a streaming service and quite a bit more on overpriced merch”.

Tom: Okay, stick with me here. That ‘Stranger Things’ reference, and the repetitive four-note rising ostinato: change the instruments up a bit, and it’s basically the theme tune to Wycliffe. Yes, I’m referencing an obscure mid-nineties ITV detective drama, yes, I know it’s not strictly relevant, but I think it’s interesting how the elements of a composition can be the same across very different genres. No? Fine, suit yourself.

Tim: Not a theme tune (or indeed a programme) that I’d ever heard of before, but you’re absolutely not wrong there, it is similar – to be honest, though, it’s difficult to pull off a fast up and down synth melody that doesn’t sound like it rips off Stranger Things (or indeed Wycliffe). But anyway, everything after that first two minutes is just pure Sound of Arrows, and (believe it or not) I actually quite like that! So WELL DONE and THANK YOU and WELCOME BACK. Oh, and also, speaking of overpriced merch it seems that every artist under the sun has face masks out right now, can we have Sound of Arrows ones as well please? THANKS.

Saturday Flashback: A*Teens – Halfway Round The World

“Oh, that is clever. Well done, director.”

Tim: The second original track from the greatest ABBA tribute act, following on from Upside Down.

Tom: Overextending the brand quite a bit there, but good luck to them.

Tim: Hey, they got four albums in all, and even the last went top five. The song isn’t quite as brilliant as Upside Down, but the video contains one of the greatest moments in music video history (and I’m not talking about when Amit runs round the back of the camera).

Tom: Oh, that is clever. Well done, director.

Tim: You wonder for a few seconds why they’re standing so woodenly – hell, the guys have got their hands in their pockets – but then it all makes sense! The screen falls forward, they break out in the full on dance routine that, in hindsight, you realise should have been there the whole time but obviously couldn’t have been, and now you want to start again and dance along, because what a routine that is. And let’s not forget: that’s a great song, and it still very much holds up to this day.

Tom: That may well be because the backing is an endless loop of the riff from Can You Feel It — but to be fair, that is a full-on, A+ pop song over the top of it.

Tim: I know the answer to this question but I want to ask it anyway: why don’t we have pop music like this any more Tom, why?

Tom: Because it doesn’t sell.

Tim: Ugh.

Ella Henderson – Take Care Of You

“Hits all the right notes and none of the wrong ones.”

Tom: This is one of the more inventive lockdown music videos I’ve seen, even if the faux-Windows 98 sound effects do rather get in the way of the music.

Tom: Full marks to the director and the animator: it’s a great job.

Tim: It is indeed. The fact that there are numerous clips where she’s moving her mouth but not to the words irritates me a tad, but I get what they’re going for so I’ll accept it.

Tom: As for the music…

Tim: Pretty good piano dance track, I reckon. Hits all the right notes and none of the wrong ones.

Tom: …yeah, it’s pretty standard. A good standard, mind, but it feels like we’re both having trouble finding interesting tracks at the moment. I wonder if that’s because the industry isn’t matching our tastes, or because lockdown means no-one’s putting out their best work?

Tim: What, a sort of ‘can’t record new stuff, let’s have a rummage around in the drafts folder’ type thing? Could be, I guess.

Seeb x Zak Abel – Sad in Scandinavia

“This time, I’d like to actually compliment the writer.”

Tom: Often, around these parts, I grumble about trite lyrics or cringe-inducing rhyme schemes. Well, this time, I’d like to actually compliment the writer.

Tim: Huh, blimey – the lyrics must be good.

Tom: I was originally going to complain that the lyrics were “clunky”, but they’re absolutely not: splitting slant rhymes across different clauses like that is really clever. It’s just that rather than paying attention to the song, I started noticing the rhyme scheme: and that feels rather like watching a movie and thinking “wow, those graphics are really good”. The best lyrics are not the ones you notice, but the ones that have the desired effect.

Tim: Yeah, you’re not wrong, and it is inventive. To be honest, I think that very when most people listen for rhyming in lyrics, it’s just a case of “ah, yeah, these syllables are the same” – if they happen to split up a sentence, or even a word, so be it.

Tom: Anyway, I got so caught up in analysing the rhymes that I forgot to pay attention to the rest of the music. What do you reckon?

Tim: I think it’s good – perfectly decent dance track. I WANT TO GO DANCING TOM.

Saturday Flashback: Alphaville – Forever Young (Special Dance Mix)

“Big drum beat! More trumpets! Intermittent vocal bits going going ‘ah, ah, ah, ah’!”

Tim: Here’s a fun thing I found while looking up versions of this song when we chatted about the Boy In Space version: the B-side of the original release, which somehow I’d never heard before.

Tom: I didn’t even know this existed! Okay, then. How did they remix this back in 1984?

Tom: Well, that sounds a bit like Pet Shop Boys only ten years earlier, doesn’t it? There’s no actual remix producer credited, so presumably this was the same team as the main single, just moving things about and banging on a couple of extra tracks.

Tim: Big drum beat! More trumpets! Intermittent vocal bits going going ‘ah, ah, ah, ah’!

Tom: I am surprised this sounds as good as it does.

Tim: Most important for us, though, an answer to your observation about it not being a song you’d expect to become so popular, what with lyrics about fading horses and suchlike. It’s not until I heard this, with the vocal bits and the excessive trumpeting, that I realised quite how much it’s based on Pachelbel’s Canon, and suddenly I can’t unhear it.

I’d love to know what it is about that piece of music, what quality it has, that makes it quite so pervasive in pop – you’ve got obvious ones like All Together Now, Go West and C U When U Get There, but then you dig further and it’s in Let It Be, Don’t Look Back In Anger, Sk8er Boi. There’s With Or Without You, Basket Case and hell, even Welcome To The Black Parade. I’ve no idea how many of those were deliberate – it’s entirely entirely possible they were subconsciously inspired or even complete coincidences (though Pete Waterman’s on record saying I Should Be So Lucky is partly based on it), but it’s interesting how one eight note theme can become the basis of so many hit singles.

Tom: If you haven’t seen Rob Paravonian’s piece on this, I suspect you should.

Tim: I hadn’t seen it, no, so thanks for that. And whether or not this is the reason they become big I’ve no idea – ups the chances a bit, I’d guess – but either way, I love music for stuff like this.

Alex Järvi – Lost Boy

“I know there’s a fashion right now for the old VHS filter, but come on mate, know when to stop.”

Tim: Since you left me, I’ve got nothing, I’m empty, blah blah blah, Alex would like to elaborate.

Tom: Sure, let’s apply lo-fi VHS effects to portrait mobile phone footage, where you can literally see the phone in the mirror. That makes sense.

Tim: Oh, there’s more to it than that – that’s just a plain weird video. Like, is the point of it to show that he’s so distraught he’s learnt how to use all the garbage effects in Windows Movie Maker and waste time hunting down crap GIFs and bits of old anime series? And if it’s not him doing that himself because he’s so broken, has he (or, I guess, Universal) paid someone to do that? Really? Because I know there’s a fashion right now for the old VHS filter, but come on mate, know when to stop.

Tom: I got irritated enough by those effects that I moved it to a background tab, at which point the song… didn’t seem to have much left to interest me.

Tim: Oh, see I think it’s quite a nice song – and I’m almost surprising myself saying that, because the genre is decidedly Not Me, but the song works.

Tom: Really? What stands out for you?

Tim: The chorus in particular has got a really good melody to it, and his vocal definitely conveys the message in the lyrics – and the production at the end, when everything’s coming together in the final chorus, just sounds great. Top work.

Astrid S – Dance Dance Dance

“That sounds too harsh but not entirely unfair.”

Tom: It’s been more than a year since we last talked about an Astrid S solo track: I really liked Emotion, whereas you described it as “good noise”. So the question is: is that down to the singer and the style, or the song?

Tom: Well, that just sort of bounced off me and left no impression whatsoever, so I guess it was the song.

Tim: That sounds too harsh but not hugely unfair. I don’t know – I like the chorus, and after hearing it a couple of times the chorus is really embedded in my head, and that’s not a bad thing, with this chorus – nice melody and message to have stuck there.

Tom: On a relisten, there are some things to like here — the new melody that appears in the closing twenty seconds is lovely, and… hmm. That’s, again, all I’ve got.

Tim: Oh, shame.

Tom: I always feel bad being harsh about a song like this, because there’s nothing actually wrong here. The vocals are excellent. The production’s good. I just think it’s a bit forgettable.

Tim: Well, maybe you should just dance dance dance.

Saturday Flashback: Undercover – Baker Street

“Would you like an unnecessary 90s piano-dance cover version?”

Tom: Would you like an unnecessary 90s piano-dance cover version?

Tim: Umm…not really?

Tom: Well, tough, you’re getting one.

Tom: There are two reasons I send this to you: first, just as a weird cultural artifact. Baker Street’s been covered a lot of times, but this one managed to reach the top 10 all over Europe despite being… well, let’s be honest, a bit anemic.

Tim: Yeah – even describing it as ‘piano-dance’ is, well, technically correct, but it’s not exactly GET ON THE DANCEFLOOR stuff, is it?

Tom: It’s a reasonable middle-of-the-road piano-dance track, but it’s not exactly a barnstormer. This is what Undercover did: all their singles were perfectly acceptable cover versions.

Tim: Hmm, fair enough, I guess. 

Tom: But the second reason I’m sending this is: I never realised that Baker Street, despite being written in the seventies, follows modern pop conventions. You’ve got a verse, a vocal pre-chorus, and then an instrumental hook as the actual chorus. Non-standard for the time, sure, but now… well, who knows, perhaps Alan Walker will sample Baker Street soon. We’re about due.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah, that could be fun. 

Ellie Goulding – Power

“Title’s a tad misleading, I felt more power than that last time I accidentally zapped myself with my electric fly swatter.”

Tom: I was about to write this off, and then the chorus hit.

Tim: Title’s a tad misleading, I felt more power than that last time I accidentally zapped myself with my electric fly swatter. Nice sound, though, and yeah, the chorus improves it a lot.

Tom: Ha, you’re not wrong there: when the second verse came along, and everything fell apart again. I mean, it’s not a staggering chorus, it’s doing that thing where most of the line’s just on the same note, but it at least stands out a bit.

Tim: You know, I often feel that “damning with faint praise” is an overused phrase, but here you’ve very definitely earned that, congratulations.

Tom: Thanks, I’ll take it. So here’s my question: does this dark-and-brooding Tesco-Value-Billie-Eilish count as Good Pop these days? Are my tastes old-fashioned? Or is this just a bit duff in the verses?

Tim: Well, Good Pop is obviously subjective, but as for Modern Pop – certainly one variety, yeah.