Josh Groban – Hidden Away

Being bought for a lot of mums right now.

Tom: Now, I have a sneaking respect for Josh Groban. He knows his audience, he knows what music they like, and he’s not afraid to lampoon himself – see his appearance on Buzzcocks or his cameo in this, the best mock-charity-video ever.

It’s the run-up to Christmas, which means – of course – new album and new single to promote it.

Tom: So, here’s the Groban checklist:

  • Slow intro.
  • Steadily rising verse.
  • Vaguely positive lyrics.
  • Occasional breaks to falsetto.
  • Heartfelt but ultimately incredibly superficial music video.

Five for five. And I’ll bet the new album is being bought for a lot of mums right now.

Tim: Well, indeed – he fits in a not particularly large group of singers who pretty much exist to have their CDs bought for elderly relatives. Similar acts include Susan Boyle, Il Divo and Michael Bublé (although he’s become a bit more mainstream recently), and it’s a fairly good place to be: the people who buy your music probably won’t realise if you stopped being good three years ago, so you can’t really go wrong.

Gorillaz feat. Daley – Doncamatic (All Played Out)

Generally un-notable electronica.

Tom: Ah, Gorillaz. Damon Albarn’s cartoon project is still going, and still producing generally un-notable electronica. Whatever the singles from ‘Plastic Beach’ were, I can’t remember them; and the only reason ‘Dare’ actually lodged itself in my head was because of Shaun Ryder’s vocals. So I shouldn’t have been disappointed by this, but nevertheless I was.

Tim: How on Earth has it managed to go on for longer than Blur did? Unjust universe, I tell you.

Tom: I hoped for another ’19-2000′ (and the Soulchild remix of it, at that). I set my sights too high. The instrumental bridge, with its two-instrument synth and percussion line, actually made me cringe as my ears tried to work out what was going on.

Tim: Yes. The first time I heard it, the first ‘Doncamatic’ made me think ‘Ooh, it’s Barbra Streisand’ all over again, albeit a not-as-good alternative. On the other hand, the chorus is quite nice, and a song made from the last minute or so might work quite well. It’s just a shame that the rest of it’s a bit pointless.

Tom: I’m going to go and listen to ‘Feel Good Inc’ again to try and get this out of my head. Wait… no need. It’s gone.

Erik Hassle – Standing Where You Left Me

There are many things right with this song.

Standing Where You Left Me by erikhassle

Tim: There are many things right with this song – the intensity of it going perfectly with the emotion, the high-pitched electric violiny type thing just before the bridge, the instrumental pauses beneath the first line of the chorus and the ‘oh my God’, to name just a few.

Tom: The drum fills in the middle of the verse, too – and the synth backing line.

Tim: However, I do have one complaint, and that is his treatment of the word ‘me’ at the end of the first line of each chorus. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s very good, but I think he missed a trick there: if he’d lowered it a couple of notes, he’d have then be able to jump up an octave for after the bridge (à la Backstreet Boys), which would have been brilliant.

Tom: Hold on. So you think that…

Tim: He should go down on ‘me’? Yes. Yes I do.

Tom: Get out.

Tim: Now, you may be wondering, ‘Did Tim really come up with a point and go on about it for a whole paragraph, complete with YouTube references, solely to make a fairly lame joke? Well, yes. Problem?

Actually, I do think it’s a slightly valid point, but that aside, however, I think the song’s great. Although don’t go on YouTube looking for a live version – you’ll spend the whole time trying to work out why he’s got a large hamster living on his head.

Pet Shop Boys – Together

The new one isn’t a classic.

Tom: I listened to this – and then immediately went and listened to ‘Go West’, which is actually good.

The Pet Shop Boys have the same approach as Pink – put loads and loads of stuff out, eventually you’ll have enough classics to do a medley at the Brits. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a good approach, but it does mean it’s a bit disappointing when the new one isn’t a classic.

Tim: True. However, I think one problem here is the whole absence makes the heart grow fonder thing, because I’ve just listened to the rest of their previous greatest hits album from 2003 – Since when they’ve apparently released two new albums and five singles. Nope, me neither.

Tom: I remember one album and one single. To be fair, Love Etc was a very good single.

Tim: Maybe, but the fact remains that the vast majority of their songs are nowhere near as good as Go West, and this song is in fact a lot better than most of them. Of course it’s not as good as Go West – the chances of that would be near zero. It is, on the other hand, still a good song and deserves to be judged on its own merits.

So, its merits. The song as a whole has a lot of energy and vibrancy to it – it’s somehow managed to stay in the style of music they’ve always been known for, yet not seem dated at all.

Tom: I’ll grant it that. It’s their style, and it doesn’t seem dated. But it also doesn’t seem to be much good: it just plods along.

Tim: There are elements of The Journey Continues to it, which was a pleasant enough tune, but one thing I’m not particularly keen on is the way it temporarily ends after the first verse.

Tom: I’m not keen on that either. The ‘temporary’ part, I mean.

Tim: Overall, however, I think it rates as perhaps not excellent, but certainly jolly good, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it ended up on a few people’s ‘Top however many Most Played’ playlists.

Tom: Somewhere near Pink’s latest track.

Sunday Girl – Stop Hey

Use your lungs, Sunday Girl!

Tim: Now, something British. To be more specific, ‘Stop Hey’ by Sunday Girl.

Tom: Ooh, that starts well.

Tim: Indeed – the intro for this is very very promising. Unfortunately, the rest isn’t quite as great, although I still like it. I prefer it to a lot of the other Eliza Doolittle/Diana Vickers/Lily Allen stuff that’s around at the moment, mainly because there’s still quite a bit of energy to it, for the most part.

Tom: A decent bit of synth work in the background, as well. Unlike Eliza Doolittle and her ilk, though, she’s doing the ‘high pitched breathy’ voice – and with very rare exceptions, that just seems frustrating to me. This is not one of those exceptions. Use your lungs, Sunday Girl!

Tim: Three things about the video:

  • it’s not for cat people
  • that umbrella looks ridiculously flimsy, and doesn’t she know it’s bad luck to open one indoors?
  • you can distract yourself from the boring bit before the bridge by imagining what it would sound like if she inhaled the helium from every single one of those balloons.

Tom: My word, that’s a sad looking dog. Must have listened to the record a few times.

Shakira feat. Dizzee Rascal – Loca

They’re going through the motions rather than actually having fun.

Tom: I saw the artists’ names and immediately thought “hell yes”. The woman who sang the best-selling song of the 21st century so far, and the best British rapper ever? (Don’t argue. I’ve seen him live, and I’ve never seen a crowd get quite so excited.)

Tom: It’s a typical Latin-influenced track, with singing from Shakira and verses from Mr. Rascal (as he’s formally known).

Tim: He actually is.

Tom: That’s what you’d expect from a collaboration like this – and there’s even a point where they trade lines as well. But what’s missing seems to be the energy. It almost seems like they’re going through the motions rather than actually having fun recording it.

Tim: One of the problems is that for the most part, Shakira’s getting through so many words that she’s practically unintelligible, so I have no idea what the song’s about. That was particularly the case when Dizzee was talking about feeling ‘el presidente’, and I spent a good couple of minutes wondering what orange juice had to do with anything, before I realised I was thinking of Del Monte.

There’s one time you can definitely understand her though, and it leads to a question I have long wanted to know the answer to: what is it with rappers and wanting to be called ‘daddy’ (or, in this case, ‘papi’)? It’s just plain weird, but it’s all over the place – Usher’s particularly guilty of it. Since when did incest become attractive?

If I was a girl, and my boyfriend said that to me, I would say to him, ‘Okay, I’ll call you daddy, but only if you call me mummy,’ and then I’d watch him run screaming from the room.

Tom: That’s a mental image that’s going to stay with me for a while.

Anyway, the lack of enthusiasm’s the same in the video – him and her have blatantly been filmed separately, perhaps even on different continents with the help of some bluescreen.

Tim: Actually, that is one heck of a distracting video, for a blindingly obvious reason.

Tom: Well, yes, I think anyone who…

Tim: …and that is Shakira’s attitude towards basic safety practices.

Tom: Wait, what?

Tim: She wears kneepads when she’s rollerblading in her very small amount of clothing – looks a bit odd, but it’s okay because it’s demonstrating good procedure for any children watching. However, then she goes on a motorbike without any real torso protection and no sign of any helmet (which is almost certainly illegal, by the way). Totally mixed messages.

Tom: How well will the American market react to “that girl is a nutter” being in there? No idea, but I hope it helps Mr. Rascal crack America. He deserves it.

OMD – Sister Marie Says

I didn’t expect to see a Catholic schoolgirl being beaten in the street.

Tom: Advance warning: this is not a happy video. I’d recommend listening to the song on its own first before watching the full video, because for once the pictures really do put the song in a different light.

Tom: Now, as I said last time we talked about OMD: I’m a fan. The overblown synth melodies, the production, everything. I’m still slightly bitter that I missed the chance to see them headline at the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park a few months ago. When I first heard this, I thought “this sounds a bit like old OMD”, and it turns out that I’m right; this track was written in 1981, meant to be released in 1996 but scrapped, brought out as a free download in 2007 and now, finally, it’s the second single off the new album.

This one doesn’t have the triumphant overtones of ‘If You Want It’, and if I’m honest the loud whispering vocal line starts to grate by the end of it. The generic, religious lyrics I can take or leave too – but the operatic bridge and the exit from it are great, elevating it above regular ‘album track’ status.

Tim: My thoughts as I heard this:

0:03 – Ooh, I like this.
0:30 – Ooh, I really like this.
1:03 – Seriously? This is your verse?
1:28 – Hooray, the fun stuff’s back.
1:43 – Do we have to have another verse?
2:11 – Yes. Not long now.
3:05 – This build-up had better be worthwhile.
3:10 – Yes!…although it’s actually just the same as before.
3:22 – Okay, this is definitely Good.

Just a shame about the verses, really.

Tom: The video, though. Well, I was expecting some religious symbolism in there, but after last time I was expecting dancers, high-powered lights and meaningless abstract themes. I didn’t expect to see a Catholic schoolgirl being beaten in the street.

Tim: Yeah, although to be honest it just confuses me – we see her getting beaten up, but it seems as though she started it, which slightly ruins it. Is the idea that an alcoholic mother and boyfriend who leaves her when she says no is enough to start a fight? I don’t know, really, and if I’m honest I don’t like it at all.

Katy Perry – Firework

It goes somewhere mediocre.

Tom: All right, it’s new Katy Perry track time. She’s got a fine way with earworms, so let’s see if this one’s just as catchy. It’s called ‘Firework’, but irritatingly it’s not released until the 15th November, far too late for Bonfire Night. Sort it out, Perry.*

* Incidentally, I would watch a show called “Katy Perry Mason”. Probably just the once.

Tom: It starts well, builds and builds, and just as you’re thinking “this has to go somewhere amazing”… it goes somewhere mediocre. This isn’t a summer hit, or even a ‘Teenage Dream’, and no number of string instruments in the chorus will help that.

Tim: The main problem is that the build-up is actually part of the chorus, so it actually disappoints three or four times throughout.

Tom: Sounds like a girl I knew once.

She’s also doing that thing where she just sings syllables rather than words, which is now starting to irritate the hell out of me. And the bridge is appalling – “boom boom boom / moon moon moon”? That’s scarcely Vengaboys-quality.

Tim: It is something Olly Murs could do worse than to take as an example. Just saying.

Tom: If ever there was a song in desperate need of a final-chorus key change, this is it – because it runs out of ideas about a minute in.

Tim: True. However, the lack of ideas does lead to repetition, which means that by the end of the song, ‘fiiiiiiiirewooooooorks’ has worked its way in and is almost enjoyable.

Tom: I wouldn’t go that far.

Take That – The Flood

When it kicks in… it’s worth the wait.

Tom: And now, something I never thought I’d write: the five members of Take That have a new single.

Tom: It starts slowly. Very slowly. But when it kicks in – heralded in the video by an actual starting pistol going off – it’s worth the wait.

Tim: Yes. Although I did like the slowness – it was a pleasant calm rather than a boring calm.

Tom: The trouble is, Take That have been gone so long that people only remember the hits and, perhaps, the two decent songs that they’ve had since. All the album tracks have faded into memory – so if they ever come out with a dodgy one, people are going to start proclaiming “they’re past it”. And with high-emotion, choir-filled tracks like Never Forget behind them, this is going to have to be something very special.

And by the end of it, I think it just might be. This one’s a grower.

Tim: I’m not sure about a grower – I think I got pretty much everything from it the first time I heard it, and I think you’re right about it being as good as people remember. I have two criticisms, though. The first just grates enough to be slightly annoying, and it’s that I cannot, however hard I try, ignore the fact that they are pronouncing ‘flood’ wrong. I know, regional accents, blah, but dammit I don’t care. Anybody who speaks properly knows that flood rhymes with mud, not wood. The second is something that will get better over time, and it’s the instrumental chorus that appears near the end. I can best compare it to the ‘light to light the way’ from the backing singers in Love Shine A Light (or, if I feel like shaming myself massively, and apparently I do, the ‘love me, love me’ from Love Me For A Reason) – musically it’s great, but it makes it very difficult to sing along to.

Tom: The video’s a bit strange. They go for a rowing race. They lose, but rather than accept defeat gracefully they continue into a half-CGI London and Thames Estuary, rowing out into a stormy sea where they’ll almost certainly perish. I’m now assuming that when they sing that they were “holding back the flood”, they meant it literally, and as a result of their defeat they’re now planning to summon an enormous storm that will destroy London.

Jimi Constantine – Dirty Cinderella

Seriously, put a t-shirt on, mate.

Tim: Some Finnish pop punk for you, by a bloke who wants to be their entry to Eurovision (although not with this song).

Tom: Amazing how much the definition of ‘punk’ has changed over the years, hasn’t it? Even pop-punk used to have a bit of attitude – Sum 41 may not have been anything near the Sex Pistols, but at least they at least pretended to have the spit-in-your-face attitude. This is more pop than punk.

Tim: The voice reminds me of a couple of Weird Al songs, I think, and the music underneath has a proper tune to it.

Tom: Good grief, now you mention it he does sound like Weird Al. Something about the slightly-nasal tone, I think.

Tim: The autotune’s laid on a bit heavy, but it doesn’t grate too much (except the ‘ella’ on the last proper line of each chorus).

Tom: True, but the chorus itself starts to grate a bit for me. It’s a nice tune, but the lyrics could use a bit of work. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I can’t help muttering “oh, get over yourself”. Also, he says “could care less” when he means “couldn’t care less” and damn it, that annoys me.

Tim: You bastard, I hadn’t noticed that. Still, overall, I think it’s quite enjoyable, even though, like you say, the lyrics won’t win him any awards, and it’ll be good to see what he comes out with in January.

Tom: Get him a decent lyricist, and I’m looking forward to it.

Tim: As for the video…

Tom: It’s very much a “how close can we get to porn before the music video channels won’t show us” effort, isn’t it?

Tim: Pretty much, yeah. Seriously, put a t-shirt on, mate.

Tom: Right there is a man who shaves his armpits. And, one would presume, everywhere else. Now I’m all for a bit of manscaping, but he does look a bit like a Ken doll.

Tim: It’s not the middle of summer, and right now it just looks a bit silly. In fact, my favourite part is when he gets a football kicked at his head for no reason whatsoever.

Tom: The impact’s right on the single drum hit in the middle of the silent bit, though. Top work, editor.