Louis Tomlinson – Walls

“You know, just once I’d like an ex-boy-band member to go into, I don’t know, hardstyle or bubblegum pop.”

Tom: He’s gone for Serious Modern Adult Contemporary Pop. You know, just once I’d like an ex-boy-band member to go into, I don’t know, hardstyle or bubblegum pop.

Tim: Hmm, I’m trying to think of an example to use as a “well, actually” here, but I’m really not sure I can – it’s always the ‘we don’t like being manufactured pop, we want to be serious instead’ narrative.

Tom: That first verse and chorus: guitars that sound a bit like Oasis, key changes that sound a bit like the Killers.

Tim: Yep: very much SMACP. The video’s weird, though: from that initial DIRECTED BY bit I was expecting a big fancy narrative from it, maybe even Alan Walker style. Instead: nope, just a few different scenes, chopping and changing between them with no real rhyme or reason. 

Tom: There’s a lot of good stuff going on here, but: fundamentally, it’s just not that good a chorus, is it?

Tim: No – it’s fine, decent enough, and I can still remember it a couple of minutes after the song’s finished, but I’ve no immense desire to press play on it again.

Tom: The fans’ll go for it, Radio 2 might playlist it for a bit, but I don’t think we’ve got the sort of all-time hit that an ex-1Der would be hoping for.

Tim: GO WITH THE BUBBLEGUM POP, LOUIS. 

Meja – Todays & Tomorrows

“Meja’s been going as a soloist for twenty five years now, and here’s her latest.”

Tim: Meja’s been going as a soloist for twenty five years now, and here’s her latest, and I pressed play on it and immediately felt Christmassy.

Tom: …it’s January. Is that a good thing?

Tim: Have a listen, you tell me.

Tom: Huh. You’re not wrong, but I can’t place why. Those aah-aah-aahs in the background do sound familiar, but even with the clue of Christmas, I can’t quite place it.

Tim: At first I thought it was the 12/8 time signature (though that helps), but no, there’s another reason and part of me doesn’t want to point it out because if you haven’t noticed it and you enjoy the song then it might spoil it for you, so I’ll leave it.

Tom: I do enjoy this — it’s the first track we’ve covered in a while that’s felt like it’d inspire a phone-torches-in-the-air moment if it’s played at a gig.

Tim: Yes, I thought you’d like it. So…

Tom: But I’m not worried about it being ruined for me. Go on, what have I missed?

Tim: Well, those aah-aah-aahs you mentioned, and indeed a large part of the underlying guitar melody, seem very similar indeed, to my ears at least, to one particular track I’M SORRY.

Tom: Oh no.

Tim: But even with that, it’s a nice song, with a good style that works for her, straight out of the nineties. I do have an issue with the lyrics, though, which is that they’re basically meaningless: is she criticising the person she’s singing at, or complimenting them, or being romantic, or just providing something to think about? No idea. Sounds nice, though.

Christopher – Ghost

“Successful musician, lovely hair, but just keeps getting abandoned.”

Tim: Poor, poor Christopher – successful musician, lovely hair, but just keeps getting abandoned. No option other than to write a song about it, really.

Tom: It’s worked for generations of misunderstood youth before him.

Tim: Mind you, the lyric “I know I said I need my own space” implies that actually he dumped her and now he’s playing the dickish ex who’s had a rethink but won’t accept she’s moved on, which is very annoying as otherwise it a good song.

Tom: Yep, there’s definitely a stalker-reading to this song. I’m going to choose to ignore it, though, because the rest of it’s pleasant enough, isn’t it? It’s an odd rhythm in that chorus, which feels a bit like he’s emPHAsising THE wrong sylLABles sometimes — but it seems to work for the track.

Tim: Nice and strummy with a decent beat and some vocal samples here and there to make it sound modern, and really if the lyrics weren’t so annoying I could really like this song. UGH, DAMMIT.

Victor Leksell – Svag

“I was really hoping the title of this was ‘Swag’, but it actually translates as ‘Weak’. Ah well.”

Tim: Here’s a song for you that stylistically I’d typically consider far too damp to suggest, but have a listen because it just kind of…gets me.

Tom: I was really hoping the title of this was “Swag”, but it actually translates as “Weak”. Ah well.

Tom: Bold choice, there, just making the album art a black square. It “gets you”?

Tim: Not sure why, really, because there’s not a lot happening there, and when the drop into the first chorus entirely failed to materialise I was thoroughly disappointed.

Tom: Yep, same here. I can see why you described it as “far too damp”: the title fits it. And yet?

Tim: It just has a something about that I like, though, which has got me bouncing around a little bit on my sofa typing this, and ever so slightly humming along to it.

Tom: The thing is, you’re not wrong. There’s a lot to like here: it’s traditional, as slow guitar-pop goes, even down to switching to the harmony line for the final chorus.

Tim: It may be that it just reminds me of several other songs, because I’m fairly sure it does, or it may be that nice gentle back and forth guitar line it’s got going on, but whatever it is – I like it.

Saturday Flashback: Matthias Reim – Tattoo

“I have to admire the chutzpah of a man in his sixties who’s still rocking the boy-band haircut and denim jacket.”

Tim: Last October Matthias brought out a new album, MR20; why, exactly, he didn’t leave it until this year just for dating’s sake is beyond me, but hey ho. Eiskalt was the fabulously unnerving lead track; here’s the second single, that got released with the album.

Tom: I have to admire the chutzpah of a man in his sixties who’s still rocking the boy-band haircut and denim jacket. Germany continues to be, as far as I know, the only nation where it’s possible to pull that off, ironically or not.

Tim: Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way first and say that it’s no Eiskalt, a song I still listen on a frequent basis; it is, on the other hand, still a pretty good Matthias Reim track, right bang in the middle of the schlager rock groove he’s carved out for himself, and I like it a LOT.

Tom: I can see why: it’s exactly the sort of Europop we like here.

Tim: Now I mention it, in fact, the whole album’s worth a listen if you get a chance; I’d recommend some highlights but that’d imply there are some lowlights, and, no.

Incidentally, there’s a German person I work with, and when I mentioned Matthias to her she was initially surprised he was still going, and then just looked at me with a sense of mild disdain.

Tom: I did wonder what Germans in general think of this: with a million views on YouTube, there’s clearly an audience — but then, there’s an audience for a lot of things that the world in general holds in poor esteem.

Tim: But I don’t care: my name’s Tim and I’m a Reimer. And if there isn’t a word for his fans, I’m having that one.

The Fizz – The World We Left Behind

“In short: the odds are stacked against them.”

Tom: They don’t have the rights to the name “Bucks Fizz”!

Tim: And there’s the most incredible television documentary ever made to explain why!

Tom: The one that isn’t Cheryl Baker stood for the Brexit Party and got 384 votes! They’re still working with Mike Stock and bringing out a new album!

Tim: And their first comeback album was actually quite good!

Tom: Their Twitter mostly retweets praise! And they appear to mostly be doing the nostalgia circuit based on “still ripping off skirts”!

In short: the odds are stacked against them.

Tim: Oh, that chorus put right old smile on my face, that really did.

Tom: It’s like someone took an album track from the 80s, kept all the synth pads, but used modern production and mastering techniques. Which, given it’s Mike Stock producing, is probably about what’s happened. There are some catchy bits in here, but they’re hampered by the middle eight acoustic guitar solo, the odd transition into that middle eight, and — given how retro the track is — the distinct lack of a key change.

Tim: Yeah – can’t deny those things do hurt it, and there’s at least one chorus too many at the end there, however smiley it gets me.

Tom: It’ll do well on the nostalgia circuit.

Tim: But it’s certainly no Don’t Start Without Me.

Torine – Make U Cry

“Who cares about your personality when you’re producing really rather good pop music? NOT ME.”

Tim: Norwegian here, new to these pages and alumnus of Norwegian Idol, and I have no idea why she’s chosen a letter rather than the full You in the title, but perhaps neither does Torine herself, given the lyrics of this.

Tim: Not exactly setting herself up as a likeable person there, so I’m not quite how much good that’ll do for a career she’s only three songs into.

Tom: The lyrics do baffle me a little: does she wish she could have him back, just so she can dump him? I mean, I know complaining about nonsensical pop music is a fool’s errand, but this does seem a little, uh, vengeful.

Tim: But then if the rest of her output’s as good as this she might not need to worry about it – who cares about your personality when you’re producing really rather good pop music? NOT ME.

Tom: “Really rather good”, though? As often happens, I feel like I’m missing something.

Tim: The production’s sounding great, she’s got the vocal talent, the melody’s strong and there’s nothing more a good song really needs. Nice stuff.

Tom: I can’t disagree with you on any of that: and yet, somehow, all I can muster is an “it’s okay, I guess”. As soon as it’s over, it’s forgotten.

The Chainsmokers with Kygo – Family

“There’s something weird about the whole thing.”

Tim: Since the sensitive content warning at the beginning of the video is irritatingly vague: he gets in a car accident, recovers, everything’s lovely now.

Tim: First up: “gave him a little extra cash” is a really weird way to describe paying someone.

Tom: There’s something weird about the whole thing. Narratively, the story doesn’t quite make sense — I realise that’s how life is, of course, but every time the video tries to make a point it’s undermined by something else in it. He wrecked his car? Sure, but we’ve just seen him pulling a handbrake turn at speed, that’s not surprising. He tore his ACL? Okay, but we’ve seen him jumping into a swimming pool from a rooftop, again, that’s to be expected.

At one point, there’s an Instagram caption visible: “This is Ross. He helped me build the car I wrecked. Guess I’m gonna have to have him build me a new one.” And sure, in context he probably sounds like less of a bellend, but the video director’s job is to make an audience care about him and it just seems like miss after miss after miss.

And then at the end, Amy appears! Has Amy been introduced at any earlier point? No, she’s just “a long time friend”. There is almost certainly a lovely, sympathetic story to be told here, but the director just didn’t do a good job of telling it.

Tim: Second up, the music, which I’ll happily admit I completely lost track of the first time I watched the video, though I’ve a feeling that’s kind of the point.

Tom: It’s generic. Kygo has a good style; the Chainsmokers have… well, a style. Together, they’re just a bit meh.

Tim: To be honest, this is a bit of a weird one. The video makes it really, really personal, and so I’m wondering which came first: the song or the crash. Was the song written after it, linking it into a “check up on your mates” theme, or was it a coincidence, and one of them thought “hey, we can make a video about that”?

I don’t know, and the Instagram post they made about it was also irritatingly vague. ANYWAY, music is music so let’s listen to that, and it’s…perfectly okay. No, it’s better than that. It’s good. It’s what we’d expect. It’s nice.

Julie Bergen & Seeb – Kiss Somebody

“Wait, is that it?”

Tim: Julie’s good at pop, Seeb do good dance – a combination’s gotta be worth hearing, right?

Tim: Right. Brief, mind – seems to be quite a “in, get it done, out” vibe, which…

Tom: …let’s be honest, fits the lyrics entirely. Two minutes and 18 seconds, though, is brief in many contexts: but, hey, if you’re trying to bring in the Spotify streaming revenue, that’s the way songs are going right now.

Tim: Often I’d praise that, because no-one likes a tune that hangs around longer than it should, but here we’re onto the second verse in less than a minute, there’s no semblance of any middle eight and barely a nod to even a closing chorus, and it just leaves me feeling a bit ‘wait, is that it?’

Tom: I disagree there: I think that quiet “make out” works as a middle eight, even if it is technically part of the chorus lyrics: and there’s definitely a bigger final chorus in there. I think this song lasts just as long as it needs to: I think if it were longer, we’d both be muttering that the simplistic tune starts to grate. (It started to grate with me on the second time I played it.) But I did, at least, play it a second time.

Tim: Sure, there can be remixes, and I can always press play a second time, but this almost has a whiff of contractual obligation to it, kind of like one of them’s lost a bet. The weirdest thing is that we do get a few ‘will this do?’ tracks, but in every case it’s been the quality of the music rather than the quantity that’s suffered. Here, music’s as good as ever – there’s just very little of it.

Anna Bergendahl – Speak Love

“Country is basically schlager, just with different instruments and more pickup trucks.”

Tim: Bits of yesterday’s track reminded me of Avicii; here’s a country opening for you that’s right out of his playbook.

Tim: Not quite as hefty later on, of course, but as country tracks go it’s still a RIGHT ON BANGER, and one I’ve happily played several times now and not got even slightly bored of.

Tom: Country is basically schlager, just with different instruments and more pickup trucks. Which is why I’m surprised that you always seem to write it off as a genre. This isn’t full-on American country, of course, but it’s certainly on those lines. And you like it!

Tim: The melody, the vocal, the energy, the everything, it’s there! Right there!

Tom: It’s a bit by-the-numbers, sure, but they are good numbers.

Tim: All flipping marvellous, so BRING IT, Anna, YES, with your walks down memory lane in the pouring rain. They might not be the greatest things, but at least they inspire good songs. Like this.