Eric Clapton – Jingle Bells

“What”

Tim: The current theme of Britain seems to be that no-one has a bloody clue what’s happening. As such, I present to you Eric Clapton’s tribute to Avicii.

Tom: What

Tim: Now I don’t mean any disrespect to Eric or anything, because the man’s a musical legend, but mate: this is garbage.

Tom: I appreciate the idea: do some good guitar riffs, get someone to put it in an Avicii style, make a tribute. Who knows? Maybe he did the mixing himself. Which, actually, would explain a lot. The execution isn’t exactly great.

Tim: It’s six minutes of the extra bits that get stuck outside dance remixes of tracks so the DJs can mix in and out of out of other songs, except the only proper bit in there lasts for precisely 25 seconds. I mean, what is the point of this? For the most part it’s not even slightly recognisable or remotely festive, and as a tribute to a great DJ it’s almost insulting. And…and…and just basically why. Mind you, right now why anything?

Alan Walker, K-391 and Sofia Carson feat. CORSAK – Different World

“Oh joy! Politics! Exactly what we need today!”

Tim: We’ll lay off Christmas for a bit, so I can bring you some NEWS: three years after Faded first came along, Alan’s finally getting on with releasing an album this Friday; it’s about half and half new music’s what we’ve already heard (and weirdly, it’s missing some of his better stuff), but here’s the title track. And hey, it’s got a political message!

Tom: Oh joy! Politics! Exactly what we need today!

Tim: The world’s gone to pot, we can rescue it if we hurry. I’d say that’s a big if, but hey, let’s go with the optimism because the alternative is just hoping that asteroid comes along fairly soon and, well, happiest time of the year and all that.

Tom: And “we’ve got time” isn’t a great message? “We’ve only just got enough time”, sure, but “we’ve got time” implies, screw it, throw another oil-soaked seagull on the barbie.

Er, anyway, let’s… let’s maybe just talk about the music.

Tim: More pop than dance this time, but that’s no big problem because it’s still a great track. There’s maybe less of your typical Alan sound, but apparently ten people (or, if you recall the gubbins about K-391, nine people and one innovative headset) were involved in putting this together, so it’s almost a wonder it holds together as well as it does.

Tom: This really is designed by committee, isn’t it? There’s no distinguishing feature to it: it feels a bit slow, a bit monotonous, a bit… dull. I actually thought it was over when it went into the middle eight, because I thought I’d been listening for a lot longer than two minutes.

When the best bit in your track is the middle eight, that’s not a good sign.

Tim: Strong (if tired and naive) lyrics, good melody throughout and production that is, to surprise, fully on point. I’m in.

The Fizz – Don’t Start Without Me

“Home For My Heart was one of the highlights of last year’s Christmas, and happily I can absolutely report that they’ve done it again.”

Tim: You’ll remember The not-legally-allowed-to-call-themselves-Bucks Fizz’s Christmassed up Home For My Heart was one of the highlights of last year’s Christmas, and happily I can absolutely report that they’ve done it again. I don’t want to spoil anything, so just press play and watch this utterly wonderful video.

Tom: “Will it ever stop raining / they’re cancelling trains and” is the worst rhyming couplet this week, Tim.

Tim: True, and if we’re honest perhaps of this year as well. BUT that is one tiny, minor, niggling point in this otherwise 100% number. You see, I’ll be getting the train back to my parents’ place for Christmas this year, and I won’t lie to you, part of me hopes the train breaks down, so all of us passengers can have a party while we’re waiting, exchanging gifts, breaking out the booze, and everyone dancing around to electric guitars, lyrics that include “toot toot” and absolutely glorious key changes.

Tom: I actually muttered “oh, piss off” under my breath after that “toot toot”. It’s just a series of gripes. And “don’t start without me”, while a good turn of phrase, actually just means everyone’s sitting around waiting for the one person who couldn’t plan in time. YES I’M OVERANALYSING THIS.

Tim: BUT EVERYTHING IN IT IS GOOD. The thing I love so much about this song is that it just keeps escalating: initially, you’ve got everything that makes up a great pop song. A minute and a half in and the video throws in an impromptu party on a train. Forty seconds more, and up comes the song to say “hang on, let me give you a ludicrous electric guitar breakdown”. A bit later: “no, that wasn’t enough, here’s a bloody ridiculous key change for you”.

Tom: If only it were a good song.

Tim: Oh, mate. This is, hands down, one of my favourite songs of the year, and the fact that it’s a Christmas just makes it even better.

William Shatner feat. Rick Wakeman – O Come, O Come Emmanuel

“We are BACK, it is DECEMBER, and so it is high time for the annual game of ‘Can We Get Tom Feeling Festive?’.”

Tom: Apologies for the delay in service here, folks, my laptop died and I had to wait for a repair.

Tim: We are BACK, it is DECEMBER, and so it is high time for the annual game of ‘Can We Get Tom Feeling Festive?’.

Tom: For our new reader: this is a game that Tim tries every year and which my Grinch-like self increasingly regrets, as a parade of cash-in Christmas albums goes past. THAT SAID: from the title alone, Tim, this is a strong start.

Tim: To kick us off, well. I don’t know how it’s taken William Shatner until now to release a Christmas album. I also don’t really know how well ‘Shatner Claus’ works as an album title, but there it is anyway. A load of tracks, mostly each featuring a slightly well known musician. This one in particular caught my eye simply because I couldn’t quite imagine what Mr Shatner’s voice could bring to this typically quite reserved hymn.

Tim: And you know what? It doesn’t sound too awful.

Tom: I mean, “doesn’t sound too awful” is a low bar to clear. And I say this as someone who genuinely, unironically enjoys Shatner’s cover of Common People. You’re going to need to elaborate on that.

Tim: The opening instrumentation sounds about right, with his voice working as an admittedly somewhat peculiar narration, and whoever the anonymous female vocalist is, she can clearly pull it off. Slightly let down by his speaking over the chorus, and him talking ominously about Satan and hell gives a vibe that’s more comedic than festive, but I can’t deny that Rick Wakeman’s keyboarding sounds very good, and by the end of it all I’m almost just impressed that it’s all holding together.

Tom: It does just about hold together! That is… not actually an endorsement though?

Tim: If you want to check out more of his festive work (and you really really should), have some recommendations: Little Drummer Boy was almost featured instead of this, because it’s a lot of fun.

Tom: I just listened to that as a comparison, and… no. No, that’s even worse.

Tim: There’s a weirdly almost ska version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; the punk version of Jingle Bells is…worth checking out; and his rendition of Feliz Navidad is exactly as you would imagine it to be.

MØ – Blur

“Yesterday pan pipes; today, what sound disturbingly like bagpipes.”

Tim: Yesterday pan pipes; today, what sound disturbingly like bagpipes.

Tom: That is a bagpipe sample, isn’t it? Or something very close. That’s brave, but not as brave as pan pipes. Side note: if you’re doing a lyric video, you don’t need an actual video. That’s… not the point.

Tim: Apparently it’s about “feeling creatively and artistically lost in the city of all great opportunities, Los Angeles”, which I don’t really get at all but never mind because the song’s a bit of alright really. A tad harsh sounding, perhaps, in every aspect – with the vocal with all the processing on it and instruments like that post-chorus, I’m not sure there’s anything we could describe as gentle here – but I think it comes together well.

Tom: Again: I’m just not sold on the chorus. The instrumentation doesn’t work for me, the melody just sounds unpleasant to my ears. Unfortunately, there’s not even a solid verse to rescue it. Nope: this isn’t for me, but I guess you’re a bit more enthusiastic.

Tim: Probably won’t become a regular listen, mind, but it sounds good right now.

Hot Shade feat. Nomi Bontegard – Creatures

“Apparent pan pipe enthusiast”

Tim: Hot Shade, American producer and apparent pan pipe enthusiast. Nomi Bontegard, a Swedish singer whose instrumental preferences are currently unknown.

Tom: All the way through the intro and first verse, I was thinking: this is good, I hope the chorus lives up to it. And then. And then.

Tim: It took me a while to work out exactly what it was about that I really liked, and then it hit me: it’s Alan Walker.

Tom: I… huh? How? I’m not sure Alan Walker ever sounded like he came from South America.

Tim: Those staccato notes underneath the early parts of her verses are straight out of his playbook, and in the second part of them when everything steps up a notch, I’m wondering how it took me so long to realise.

Tom: That’s fair, and that’s probably why I like the verses so much. It’s a good style to take inspiration from.

Tim: As with all of his songs, I think this is great – the pan pipes are a bit weird, but I think that’s only because no-one’s ever thought to use them before…but they seem to just work. Work nicely, in fact.

Tom: I cannot overstate how wrong you are.

Saturday Flashback: Måns Zelmerlöw – Hope & Glory

Tim: Item two in the current collection of “oh, I forgot all about this one”: Måns’s entry for Melodifestivalen 2009. Topped the final with the juries but only came fifth with the voters, leaving to a final fourth place.

Tom: Okay, just take a moment here, because I want to talk about a technical thing that speaks of the professionalism of both Måns and the production crew. The second shot: the one that cuts straight to his finger. It looks really simple, but that’s a perfectly framed and focused shot. That means Måns had to hit his mark exactly, raised his finger to the planned position exactly, and then the camera op had to make any final adjustments in under a second so the director could cut to it.

That one shot sums up Melodifestivalen’s tech for me: they didn’t need to do that, barely anyone will have cared about it, but artistically they wanted to so they made it happen.

Tim: Yeah – and that is, genuinely, one of my favourite things about Melodifestivalen, and frequently Eurovision as well – the creativity and expertise with the camerawork, like the other example we had last month, with dancers coming out of nowhere. It’s something you rarely get anywhere else, yet it’s such an art form.

ANYWAY. The song.

Now I don’t want to say it was the outfit that killed it, but I will say that while I think the song’s fantastic, and the backing graphics are good as well, there’s no way I’d pick up the phone for someone wearing that jacket/shirt/bow tie combination. Too harsh? I don’t know, but like I said, I do think that song’s brilliant.

Tom: Really? It almost sounds off-key during the verses. I don’t think that’s accidental, because Måns has proved that he can reliably hit live notes; I think that’s down to the composition. I’ll grant you that’s a decent chorus and a fantastic middle eight, though.

Tim: Right – and indeed that part right after the middle eight, though it’s funny: it uses almost the exact same trick that Cara Mia did two years previously of going slightly euphoric, albeit a tad less enthusiastically. It works well here just as well, but it could be argued that maybe it got some people being less impressed? I don’t know – almost a decade on it’s hard to know anything, except simply that this is a damn good track.

Alex Weit – By Your Side

“Wow, that starts well.”

Tim: New Swede (well, not new, he’s 20, but new at music anyway).

Tom: “New Swede” is also a good name for a band.

Tim: And this is “a story of two people that really fancy each other, but one of them is scared of love. So they cancel their first date and, instead, they both stay home, fantasising about what could have been if things would have played out differently.” Enjoy.

Tom: Wow, that starts well. That’s such a good intro. I realise I’m talking about three seconds of mostly synth effects there, but still.

Tim: And that is a song with a lot of promise, that’s builds and builds and then just…plateaus. Verses, first two choruses, middle eight, all decent and regular, but then towards the end you’ve just got a repeat of the chorus (admittedly not unheard of, but also not particularly inspiring), and a segue into what’s basically in a TV chat show theme tune.

Tom: Huh. You’re right. A lot of good ingredients, but not quite mixed together right.

Tim: And that’s harsh, but…it’s also true, and I really wish it wasn’t.

Tom: It’s a really, really good TV chat show theme tune though.

Klara & Jag – Poetic

“I did not expect ‘Mr Hemingway’ to be a reference in a pop song, let alone a Swedish one.”

Tim: We’ve all been there – sitting in a bar where a guy breaks away from his mates and comes over to you, spouting some deep nonsense and thinking it makes him sound clever and romantic but actually he just sound like a bit of a knob. Alright, maybe not all of us, but that’s who Kara & Jag are singing about.

Tom: I did not expect “Mr Hemingway” to be a reference in a pop song, let alone a Swedish one. But, sure, that works.

Tim: Very first things first: in my mind, this song has a great introduction. That single guitar line, with just that liiiittle bit of extra something underneath, was somehow enough to get me hooked, and then when that extra high part and brief vocal bit came in, we’re suddenly not far off yesterday, in the sense that this is just a great pop song. It’s structured perfectly, the melody and energy are all there, and it leaves absolutely nothing wanting.

Tom: I know we’ve established over the years that I’m significantly less easily impressed than you: but calling two songs in a row flawless? Come on. They’re good, they’re competent… but I “nothing wrong” doesn’t necessarily imply “everything right”. It’s okay! It’s reasonable! It’s pleasant! It’s just not spectacular.

Tim: Fair, I guess. The thing is, the formula we have can help you get a long way, but it all comes down to the variables – melody, backing, vocals and so on. And right here I think it has all those necessary parts sounding good together, and for me at least that all makes for one very good track.

Icona Pop – Rhythm In My Blood

“And that is Good.”

Tim: So Robyn’s new album is as dull as really, really dull ditchwater, but last Friday wasn’t all bad news. For starters, for the first time in YEARS Lady Gaga is at number one in both the singles and albums chart, and for seconds this one appeared.

Tim: And that is Good, because it takes the traditional Icona Pop shouty vocal sound, which is already very enjoyable, and throws in a fair amount of decent melody.

Tom: Oh, I didn’t expect to like that. It’s got a minimalist sound, the kind that I don’t usually like, but then I realised half way through that I was already humming along with the chorus.

Tim: We’ve musical vocals in the verses and a surprisingly earwormy hook in the chorus, which now I’ve heard this track three or four times I’m not sure I’ll ever lose. Nice one ladies, good to have you back.