Kylie Minogue – Say Something

“Is there a bit of a CHVRCHES influence there?”

Tom: The late-80s revival style continues to be popular in our current nostalgia cycle, so let’s talk about a new track from someone who was there the first time around.

Tom: And is it me, or is there a bit of a CHVRCHES influence there?

Tim: Blimey, there’s very much a CHVRCHES influence there – if Kylie were singing with a slightly Scottish twang I’d immediately think it was from them. It’s interesting, really, how we talk about late-80s revival, because that is absolutely not a late-80s Kylie track, it’s a 2020 track – it’s not so much a revival as a gentle evolution of pop, having taken a slight 30 year pause to do things like Britpop and dubstep along the way.

Tom: An odd thing that I don’t think I’ve ever commented on here: this is a track with a lot of heavy stereo effects that, somehow, just work. Try removing just one headphone, and suddenly it’s much, much flatter, even missing out some parts entirely. There’s a real feat of engineering and production involved to create something this stereo-heavy BUT also not make the effect obvious and distracting.

Tim: Huh, yeah, you’re not wrong. Nicely done, Kylie. Top work.

Anne-Marie feat. Doja Cat – To Be Young

“Two distinct hooks between the pre-chorus and regular chorus, some great vocals, and composition that somehow manages to be simple while not grating.”

Tom: Anne-Marie, best known for catchy romanticisation of her past. Doja Cat, known for this TikTok-famous, 70s-influenced track. Together:

Tom: I assumed this would be deviation to the mean, because… well, that’s how this works. But this is really rather good, isn’t it?

Tim: It is – whole lot of things to recommend here. The autotune grates on me a little bit at times, though I don’t know if that’s deliberate or not.

Tom: Two distinct hooks between the pre-chorus and regular chorus, some great vocals, and composition that somehow manages to be simple while not grating.

Tim: Yeah, certainly can’t deny any of that – everything goes together nicely with that good melody.

Tom: And, I assumed Doja Cat would just be coming in for a rapped middle eight, because that’s usually how it works. But no: a noticeably different voice, backed up by some really good string samples. I’ve got nothing bad to say about this track. It’s brilliant.

Hurts – Redemption

“I didn’t think a pop song could pull that off, and yet it just has done.”

Tim: Third track off their upcoming album Faith; we didn’t feature their second, and I’m not quite sure why, because it’s fairly good (though the intro’s a bit unpleasant, maybe that put me off). This one, in contrast, is…well. Headphones, please, and sit back, as it entirely deserves 100% of your attention. There’s an official video, but we’ll just have the artwork for now, I’ll explain later.

Tom: “I’ve never felt this far from God.” That’s a bold and devastating first line, isn’t it? And for an album called “Faith”… it’s rare for the first verse of a track to grab me like that.

Tim: Isn’t it brilliant? I first listened to this when I was walking home from work the other night, and for the first minute I was ‘yep, this is a good Hurts track, they are doing what they do very well’; the light backing vocal then confirmed that. Second verse and chorus, still as before, fine, still good – might have expected something bigger, but again I have, well, faith in them, and even just at that base level it still sounds stunning.

Tom: It’s a perfect example of how to construct a song that builds like this: just subtly introducing instruments throughout, occasional pizzicato strings here, a bit more percussion there…

Tim: And then the middle eight, and OH BOY. Gentle electric guitar, sure. Fine. But then, just, blimey. Strings come down, and suddenly Hans Zimmer walks into the room, and it sounds incredible.

Tom: It works! Most bands don’t even attempt something like this; those that do, tend not to hit the bar. There are bits I wasn’t sure about at first (the odd dubstep-esque breakdown, the final note) but those qualms vanished on a second listen. Frankly, this is a statement of a song, and I’m not going to argue with it.

Tim: The vocals come back up later, and at the end of it I’m astounded by what I’ve heard. I didn’t think a pop song could pull that off, and yet it just has done. It is, quite simply, utterly marvellous.

Tom: When Hurts are good — and they’re not always good, but when they are — they’re one of the greatest pop acts we have.

Tim: Now, all of that is the case if you’re just listening to the song, but there’s also the video. You can watch it here if you don’t want this discussion to spoil it, but it starts out exactly as it should and as you might expect from this: the two of them standing under spotlights, Theo singing and Adam playing piano, and it stays like that until what we shall call the Zimmer Moment, and suddenly it turns from song to soundtrack. Now, although I’m sure it’s partly there for shock value, I don’t think it’s too gratuitous, that’s not my issue – after all, the idea of redemption by fire isn’t a new one, particularly if you’re bringing religion into it.

Tom: And a note to every video director: this is how you light and grade a dark video for modern broadcast workflow. Faces are clear, there’s a minimum of colour banding. It’s not perfect, compression still ruins some close-ups of the eye with fire, but it’s about the best you could hope for. I agree, I don’t think that’s too gratuitous, there’s no close-up of injury there, it’s clear that it’s a metaphor — and a stunt.

Tim: But it does mean that you go immediately from watching a song being played to watching a film with a great score, and that’s not what I think a music video should be. It’s different from, say, Alan Walker, or Basshunter back in the day, because with them the music is entirely unrelated to the video – you’ve a story and a song happening at the same time, but that’s about it. Here, the music is directly related to what’s happening on screen, and what’s happening on screen is the main focus of the whole piece. And as a music video, I don’t think that should be the case.

Paul Oakenfold x Luis Fonsi – The World Can Wait

“Well, the first nine seconds were promising.”

Tom: Yep, Oakenfold’s back after years! Trance DJ. Prolific remixer. The last big song he produced was Cher’s Woman’s World. And he’s working with the vocalist that most of the world knows from Despacito. Surely, this will be a BANGER.

Tim: I don’t trust that intro.

Tim: Hmm. Well, the first nine seconds were promising, but then, really, Paul?

Tom: …so anyway, it turns out that for the last decade or so, Oakenfold’s also been writing film scores. And once you know that, this does sort-of makes sense.

Tim: Does it? After all, a couple of decades ago he was writing TV themes (twenty years ago today, in fact), and that one was a right old tune. But even if that’s the case – this isn’t a film theme, it’s a mild pop song.

Tom: The fans who made pilgrimages to Tomorrowland to see him are, most likely, going to be disappointed. But if this rolled over the credits of a movie? Well, I’d probably think “that sounds okay” as I got up and left the cinema. Or, these days, stopped the stream and checked my phone.

New Rules – Emily

“What do you get if you cross McFly with Lewis Capaldi?“

Tom: I’m going to level with you, the first time I saw this, I assumed it was someone called Emily covering Dua Lipa’s “New Rules”. Nope. Instead: what do you get if you cross McFly with Lewis Capaldi?

Tim: This, I’m guessing?

Tim: Huh, yeah – not a bad comparison.

Tom: They’ve been around for about a year, and they’re big enough to have a YouTube “artist channel” but not big enough for a Wikipedia article. And their sound is… hmm. “Surprisingly grown-up” is the term that came to mind, but then that’s because my expectations for a group with a name like this are still based on 90s/2000s boy-band sounds and not, for example, The 1975.

Tim: You know, I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve started listening to Radio 1 a lot more recently and so am having them pumped down my ears at least twice daily, but I’ve since become a fair old fan of The 1975 – and yeah, it’s a very similar sound.

Tom: As for the song: well, once you adjust those expectations, it’ll do, won’t it?

Tim: It’ll do nicely.

Saturday Flashback: McFly – Mr Brightside

“Interesting alternate-universe version, isn’t it?”

Tom: This is one of the bravest covers I’ve ever heard: but if anyone can pull it off, it’s the band that managed a decent shot at covering Don’t Stop Me Now.

Tim: Yep, I’m listening.

Tom: Important context: this was in 2005, when Mr Brightside was only about a year or so old, and before it had truly settled into the pantheon of Songs Everyone Knows. Plus, this was just the B-side of a single, back when singles had B-sides. So while this isn’t quite as bold a move as it seems, it’s still going to be an interesting listen for anyone who knows every note of the original.

Tom: Interesting alternate-universe version, isn’t it?

Tim: Yeah – it sounds…weird. I don’t to say ‘wrong’, because I guess it isn’t, but definitely weird, although that’s likely just due to over-familiarity with the original.

Tom: The only thing that I think falls down here are the vocals. Not because they’re bad — but because they’re McFly, and those voices and accents are suited more for their regular style. “It was only a kiss” just doesn’t sound right: it’s not a patch on the melodramatic original, it’s just sounds a bit like someone’s recounting a night out to their mates down the pub.

Tim: Hmm. I think the could perhaps work if the original hadn’t been heard and hadn’t been such a big hit, because it can work like this, even with that feeling to it. It’s just, like you said, it’s not a patch on the melodrama that the Killers give it.

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.

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.

Foxes – Love Not Loving You

“There are some very interesting instrumental choices in this”

Tim: I’m not going to lie to you, Tom – there are some very interesting instrumental choices in this upcoming song.

Tom: You’re not wrong there, but oddly I think it might… work?

Tim: You think? Because, is that just the sound of girders being whacked together? Or maybe something smaller – “Hey mate, synthesiser’s gone wrong, I was gonna call a plumber to get get some copper pipes, any other suggestions?” It’s utterly bizarre.

Tom: The actual melody instruments seem to have some odd cameos in there too: there’s what sounds like a brief appearance from an upright bar room piano at about 1:33, which is back and distorted in the middle eight. Against the odds, I find it charming, but there is so much going on that it feels overloaded — coming out of the middle eight into that cleaner pre-chorus felt like a breath of fresh air.

Tim: Yeah, you’re not wrong – there’s so much in there that it does become almost distracting after a while, and I really just want to hear her sing.

Tom: It’s a surprising choice given the stripped-down, bare production that’s in fashion right now. But when I normally turn away at overproduced wall-of-sound stuff… for some reason, I liked this.

Tim: The rest of the song’s okay – no Body Talk, as YouTube keeps reminding me with its tedious autoplay function, but perfectly good as far as Foxes goes – except now I’m hearing that particular noise it’s just such a distraction. Why? WHY? WHYYYYYYY?????

Tom: Maybe it’s a Bob Blackman reference.

Tim: Ermm, yeah. Maybe.

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.