Macklemore feat. Kesha – Good Old Days

“Basically four minutes of musical blueballs.”

Tom: As there’s not much in the way of good European pop music being released at the moment, I thought I’d take us over and have a look at what’s coming out of the US. And I’ve picked this one, not because it’s representative of what we usually talk about…

Tom: …but because it could be so much better if it were a bit more European.

Tim: Oh yes?

Tom: Because I’m listening to it through our pop-music lens, that’s basically four minutes of musical blueballs. Slow start. Great intro verse from a brilliant singer. Military drums starting to build. And then…

Tim: UGH. Kesha’s singing is nice, but by the end of the first verse I wanted something more. Macklemore came on, the drums started, I thought YES, let’s BEGIN…but then nothing. Just a massive anti-climax.

Tom: This could be (should be?) a banger. Instead, it just drops down again for the hook, every time. And I realise that’s a deliberate decision, and it’s all emotional, and it’s probably the point, but in my head this should have CHOIRS and BRASS SECTIONS and VIOLINS and basically a WHOLE DAMN ORCHESTRA.

Tim: Oh God, now I’m imagining this with a massive choir behind it, and DAMN YOU Tom now you’ve made me realise even more how much better it could have been. DARN IT.

Steps – Neon Blue

You think “How on Earth can a song called Neon Blue be a ballad?“

Tim: You press play, you think “How on Earth can a song called Neon Blue be a ballad?”

Tim: Well it turns out it can’t. They did perhaps leave it a little too late to develop – thirty seconds in I was wanting a 7th Heaven remix, and I was within a few seconds of giving up when that build came along.

But then, oh, there’s even a sort of dance routine.

Tom: And full marks for what appeared to be a genuine bit of laughter during the middle eight. It’s been a long time since a music video made me smile like that.

Tim: Yes, I want it a bit bassier, a bit more banging (so, actually, maybe I do still want a 7th Heaven remix).

Tom: Agreed: it’s almost like someone’s put a high-pass filter on it or something. It needs just a bit of bass drum in there or something… ah, there we go. Although it still seems a bit weedy somehow, but maybe that’s just my headphones.

Tim: Ah, yes, that is what I wanted. But even without, “come on, come on, and dance with me” is a message I can 100 BILLION per cent get behind. I’m so happy that they’re not only back but also making an actual proper effort with it. So so happy.

Hurts – Ready To Go

“One of the best bands of the decade”

Tim: In which we are reminded that Hurts are one of the best bands of the decade, and also that extended music videos are rubbish, as you’ll miss precisely nothing if you skip straight to 0:35.

Tim: See, when they started way back when, they had their own sound, a sort of melancholy electro-rockish vibe, and since then they’ve maintained pretty much the exact same level of standing ever so slightly out of phase with whatever’s in vogue at the time (though I’m ignoring the abomination that was their second album).

Tom: I do miss that melancholy electro-rock, if I’m honest, but bands who don’t change end up… well, they either end up dying out, or they end up being KISS.

Tim: Here, you’ve your distorted vocal samples, your steady and repetitive chorus loop and the vague post-tropical vibe. And yet even with all those, it’s still distinctly them. And it’s good. Yes, the repetitive chorus loop is perhaps a bit too repetitive, and maybe I’d prefer a slightly more structured ending…

Tom: Both of which I was going to mention.

Tim: …but otherwise, it’s a positive sign for their next album.

Kelly Clarkson – Love So Soft

“The intro! The brass section! The whistle register!”

Tom: I like everything about this…

Tom: …apart from the chorus.

Tim: Yes – I certainly see where you’re coming from. Personally, not much of this does anything for me, and the chorus is a particular nadir.

Tom: Really? But there are so many other good things about this! The intro! The brass section! The whistle register! The steady build in the verse towards… well, towards a really disappointing chorus.

Tim: It is, and I certainly won’t deny that there aren’t enjoyable bits – the closing section is good when everything but the kitchen’s musical sink is in there, but otherwise it leaves me a bit cold.

Tom: It’s a real shame, because the last minute or so shows exactly what this could have been — but instead it goes all stripped-down, for no valid reason that I can see. It doesn’t fit her style, it doesn’t fit the song, it doesn’t fit… anything, really.

ZAYN feat. Sia – Dusk Till Dawn

“Way, way above most of the other ex-One Direction singles.”

Tom: Time for an unnecessarily dramatic video. (Perhaps he’s envious of Harry Styles’ turn on Dunkirk.)

I reckon that, when it gets to the chorus, you’re going to go “oh,” and then one or two beats later go “oh!”

Tim: On count 1: yes, that really is unnecessarily dramatic, though it is quite fun. Count 2: yes, pretty much. Chorus starts okay, and suddenly becomes GREAT.

Tom: I’ll be honest, that “ee-ee-ee-ee” bit in the chorus doesn’t work for me, which means there’s no way I could give this track full marks: but it’s still definitely a cut above most of the other ex-One Direction singles.

Tim: Oh, way, way above them, as I have a massive amount of time for this. Sure, the ee-ee-ee-ee is possibly a slight irritant that detracts from the rest, but it’s still damn good.

Tom: There’s a lot going on here — possibly too much. And it’s possibly a poor choice to use Sia just for backup vocals: that voice deserves to at least have a bit of a solo.

Tim: Quite pleasing how much we’re agreeing here – I too found it weird that she’s only there to directly duet, there’s no variation from Zayn’s line to hers.

Tom: But still, as Credible Big Pop Tracks go, Zayn could be doing a lot worse.

Tim: Much, much worse.

Matoma & The Vamps – Staying Up

“It’s just not something you’d expect to hear in mid-to-late 2017.”

Tim: Three boybands came out with tracks this week: one a new group from the ludicrously complicated American TV show Boy Band (and the song’s awful); one called Why Don’t We who have been going a year now and are yet to produce anything that isn’t awful; and The Vamps.

Tom: An understated third part to that list, there.

Tim: True, but most of the stated-ness was due to the others being awful, which isn’t something I can say about The Vamps, particularly with Matoma on board.

Tom: Interesting who got first billing there, isn’t it?

Tim: And hearing that makes me realise that, pleasantly, tropical dance has largely been absent this year, which means we can actually enjoy it in the small doses that it presents itself in, such as this.

Tom: It actually sounds a bit dated now, doesn’t it? I’m not sure that it’s a bad sound, it’s just not something you’d expect to hear in mid-to-late 2017.

Tim: In terms of what it does, it’s not dissimilar to last year’s All Night – takes your regular boyband sound, and merges that nicely with something different, turning more into something sounding like a banging remix.

Tom: It’s not quite a BANGER: there’s too much pre-chorus and not enough actual full-on chorus. It’s got the same problem as Galantis earlier this week: there’s basically no bass, which is fine for tropical house but not really great to dance too. But yes, it is at least different.

Tim: That is, in fact, probably what saves it right now from being a generic boyband track destined for the shame and ignominy that hopefully await those two I mentioned earlier, which could easily be generic solo album tracks with a few extra vocals. All in all, this really works for me, as a sound and as a track.

Saturday Flashback: Let Loose – Crazy For You

“Literally, I can’t find anything wrong with this track.”

Tom: I had forgotten about this track. Which is a shame, because I think it might be a perfect piece of pop music.

Tim: Do you know, I actually had to check Wikipedia to make sure that wasn’t a young Christopher Eccleston playing the drums.

Tom: Really? I was thinking young Paul Gross myself. Anyway. The band had your standard minor-hit history, including three top 10 hits and an unsuccessful reunion attempt in the late 2000s. It’s a perfectly respectable showing.

Tim: Yes – and it’s certainly impressive to get a 35 track Greatest Hits album out of only 10 singles.

Tom: But somehow, I feel like this track deserved more.

Tim: Really? A number 2 (lol) is a perfectly decent showing, no?

Tom: When I say “there’s nothing wrong with it”, I don’t mean that as faint praise. I mean, literally, I can’t find anything wrong with this track.

Tim: Nitpicking, I’d say the vocals could be a bit higher in the mix, but yeah, it’s good enough. It’s no What Makes You Beautiful or Lovekiller, but it’s good.

Taylor Swift – Look What You Made Me Do

“Are you…are you on glue?”

Tom: I know we’re meant to be about Europop here, but let’s talk about this.

Tim: Oh, must we?

Tom: Everyone else is.

Tom: It’d be a banger if it had an actual sung chorus.

Tim: Yes – ironic, really, that given all the beef she’s had with Katy Perry over the past few years she’s now releasing a song with the exact same flaw as Dark Horse.

Tom: Everything else about this is great: the introduction, the build in the first verse, the pre-chorus… and then it, well, it goes all a bit wrong.

Tim: Are you…are you on glue? It’s dull, there’s next to no melody, the lyrics are horrible, they gave Right Said Fred writing credit in advance so they didn’t get sued – and that video would appear to be going for horror movie but it comes out like Scooby Doo (and we also need to teach her what underlining is).

Tom: I know, I know, but I went into this cold — I’ve looked up the other opinions now, but I just went “ooh, new Taylor Swift track” without seeing the reactions. And genuinely, I really liked everything up until that chorus. It could have been good.

Tim: Well, takes all sorts, I suppose.

Tom: To be fair, by the end of the track I think I “got it” — I just hope the rest of the album’s not quite as dark. I’m reminded of Robbie Williams’ strategy: release the weird single first to get attention, follow it up quickly with a radio-friendly banger for airplay. If that’s what’s going on here, there’s hope yet.

Tim: Well, sorry to disappoint you, but the old Taylor won’t be on the radio any more. Why? BECAUSE SHE’S DEAD, remember? This is it, apparently, and it’s bloody awful.

The Killers – Run For Cover

Tom: Second single off the new album; it’s been out for a while, but the video’s new.

Tom: And it sounds like the Killers. It’s got their guitar sound. It’s got the structure and pacing of ‘Spaceman’. It’s even got the slight dip to minor key for one chord in the chorus.

Tim: Right: textbook Killers. Took me a while to get on board – that first verse in particular I found way too bass-heavy – but it had won me over by the time the second chorus rolled around.

Tom: This is a perfectly serviceable track. There’s nothing wrong with it. But let’s be honest: the trouble is we’re automatically comparing it to a track from thirteen years ago that’s still so popular that it keeps appearing in the Top 100 based on streaming alone.

Tim: Yeah, it’s weird – now you’ve mentioned it, I’m trying to think of any other bands or acts that are like that, and I’m not sure I can. However many great songs they have, it seems Mr Brightside will always overshadow them.

Tom: The Killers don’t just have a back catalogue: they have some songs that helped to define years of people’s lives. That’s a high standard to meet: and this just doesn’t quite get there. Still good, though.

Chloe Adams – Never Been Kissed

“Blimey, that’s good”

Tim: The curse of every female pop-rock artist: positively or negatively, you’ll get compared to Avril Lavigne. And…

Tim: …here, I make that a positive thing, because that’s a good track, very good indeed.

Tom: Yep. When the chorus kicked in I actually said “blimey, that’s good” out loud. It’s like a pop-punk version of “Love Me Like You Do”.

Tim: To be honest there’s not a huge amount to say about it, other than: it’s a typical female pop-rock track, with all the tropes that brings with it, but they’re used very well, and I’ve absolutely no complaints about it. The verses work well, flow into and out of the strong chorus nicely, there’s a good build out of the middle eight – everything’s great.

Tom: There’s even the “drop down the backing and distort the vocals a bit” cliché. This could have come out at any point in the last twenty years, and I am A-OK with that.

Tim: Keep them coming, please.