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.

Pink – Raise Your Glass

There are many things wrong with this.

Tom: Stop everything. It’s a new Pink single.

Tom: I’ll freely admit to being a Pink fan. I saw her perform live at the Wireless Festival, and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen. She sang, quite clearly live, while spinning on aerial silks without a safety net. In her grand finale, she swooped above the crowd on a custom-designed winched harness. It was brilliant.

This new single? Well, there are many things wrong with this. It starts slowly, and the verses – with sparse kick drum and guitar behind them – feel like they need a lot more. The lyrics irritate me: “what’s the deal-i-o”, “if you’re too school for cool”, and “don’t be fancy / just get dancey” are all dire. And the spoken mock-interjections that she’s prone to will grate more and more every time I hear it, like the horrible ‘check my flow / uh’ that blights the middle of ‘So What’.

Tim: I don’t mind most of those things, although you’re definitely right about fancy/dancey, and the interjections do go on a bit. My main issue, though, is that there’s not enough singing in it – the chorus is okay, but the verses seem to have only a very vague sense of tune, with her voice hardly varying and it just seems like a half-hearted rap that she can’t really be bothered with.

Tom: But the chorus… well, the chorus nearly makes up for it. A stadium crowd chanting ‘Raise your glass’ all at once will make this song worthwhile – but this definitely ain’t another ‘U + Ur Hand’.

Tim: No – although looking at her past efforts she does seem to go for quantity over quality, hoping that some will stick. Of the twenty six songs she’s put out over the past ten years, I think I like about seven, yet I would still say I like her music. She’ll come out with a good one soon enough.

As for that video: I think – I think – she might be trying to tell us something, and that maybe everybody’s different and it’s a good thing. That’s just a guess, though – it might be something else completely. Oh wait, actually, no it isn’t something else. And she’s not telling us, she’s SCREAMING IT AT US UNTIL WE BLOODY WELL LISTEN.

On the other hand, getting annoyed with the whole PSA-ness of it all does make it a little easier to listen to the song.

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.

Olly Murs – Thinking of Me

The stuff that comes out of his mouth is just atrocious.

Tim: The X Factor’s a funny old thing, isn’t it? It’s ostensibly meant to find the country’s best act, but winning isn’t necessarily any better a thing than just getting to the final, as far as future careers go. For every Leona and Alexandra, you get a Leon (who?) and a Steve (according to Wikipedia, currently entertaining crowds in his local Pizza Hut).

For the other finalists, admittedly most just go back home. Some may put out a novelty record, or perhaps a truly dire album of covers, and some may become novelties themselves. But there are a few that do properly well, like JLS. And then there’s Olly Murs.

His first single was, well, not great. It wasn’t terrible – it got to number one, probably – but it wasn’t really anything to write home about. His second single, on the other hand, is quite incredible, being as it is practically a lesson in how not to write words.

Tom: Ooh, that starts very well and doesn’t really stop. It’s a very summery song, so it’s possibly a shame that he’s releasing it as we plunge into the depths of winter, but I don’t care. I automatically started bouncing a little in my chair.

Tim: I did as well, actually, because you’re correct: the music is enjoyable. But then he starts singing, and the stuff that comes out of his mouth is just atrocious.

You’d think it couldn’t get any worse than the very first two lines, ‘making plans/your old Raybans’. Then it dips further, ‘we used to be/Bob Marley’ and you think, ‘Seriously?’ By the time the second verse gets going, with ‘pebble beach/pinched our feet’, you’re pretty much looking for the nearest office block, just so you can throw your speakers out of a tenth floor window.

Tom: For once, this isn’t grating for me. I think it’s because I’m too busy being suckered in by the chord progression and chukka-chukka percussion. How can you not like this? It’s lovely!

Tim: Because of the words. There are ten ‘rhyming’ couplets in that song. I forced myself to check them. There are precisely two (2) that rhyme and three that are vaguely justifiable. The rest, just…dear God, what did humanity do to deserve this?

Tom: I started singing along with the backing singers on the first listen, Tim. That means it’s very predictable, sure, but it also means I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tim: Part of me seriously thinks (perhaps even hopes) he was trying to make this bad, for some cool, ironic, silly-hat-wearing reason, and that the good ones slipped in accidentally, because if this is an honest attempt to write a decent song, it’s an honest attempt that a five year old would make.

Tom: I defy you to not smile at that piano outro. It’s even got a lovely PLONK at the end. It’s wonderful.

Tim: Maybe, but you know what the worst thing is? The absolute worst thing? He compares himself to Bob Marley.

Tom: Which may be true, but it just doesn’t change my opinion, which is that I smiled listening to this song. I think it’s just the style hitting a bypass switch on the cynical part of my brain.

Tim: But, Bob Marley was a musician who did reggae because it was where he came from and he was good at it. Olly Murs, on the other hand, is a middle class cock from Essex with a word-that-he’d-rhyme-with-deducting ridiculous hat who does it because he thinks it makes him cool. It doesn’t. IT MAKES HIM AN UTTER PRICK.

Tom: Word that he’d rhyme with deducting? — oh. Clever.

Wait. Hang on. I just watched the video, rather than just listening to it. And now I despise him. I’m thinking fall in, just fall in all through his swaggering leprechaun-like cockery. That’s all it took. I still like the song, I just wish someone else was singing it.

Tim: Oh, God, he’s SUCH A KNOB*. But at least he’s lost the hat, which his something.

* Is that meant to have a ‘k’ in it? Neither way looks particularly right.

JLS – Love You More

It’s just so generic.

Tom: Two years ago, McFly released Do Ya, which I now agree is pretty much their best single, for Children in Need. Last year, it was Peter Kay and his Animated All-Stars. This year, it’s… ah, well, it’s JLS. Never mind.

Tom: I want to comment on this, but it’s just so generic that it flies in one ear and out the other. I mean, they can sing in harmony (unlike certain bands we know) and it’s a competent enough track that pushes all the buttons. In fact, the most obvious feature is the end, because it feels like they’ve stopped right in the middle of a

Tim: It’s…dull. There’s really not a lot to like about it. Charity records ought to be fun, to get people excited about raising money and stuff – this is anything but. Where’s the excitement? Where’s the enthusiasm? Where’s…anything that’s interesting? I will, however, try to excuse it by assuming they were all too busy with condoms to concentrate on their music.

Tom: I want to mock that, I really do, but it’s actually a genuinely good way to get a safe-sex message out. Wow. For once, I actually have to applaud that cash-in.

And as for the video: They’re also doing The Pusher-style blurryvision; the director has discovered DSLR video and It Must Be Filmed With Shallow Depth of Field. I know I’m the only one who’s annoyed by this, but I’m going to keep blathering about it.

Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds (Viva Elvis Remix)

Damaged in the time travel process.

Tom: Elvis’ estate never used to allow remixes or re-edits of his work – something that changed when Nike paid them a lot of money. That resulted in the staggeringly good “A Little Less Conversation”, and a couple of followups that were never as popular.

Well, someone else has come along and paid a lot of money: Cirque du Soleil, who are doing a “Viva Elvis” show – doing for Elvis what they did for The Beatles with the Love album. And this is the lead single: a thorough, orchestral reimagining of the classic ‘Suspicious Minds’.

Tom: I liked the Love album. I love mashups. I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘sacrilege’ when it comes to old records. Now you can certainly make terrible new versions, but the old ones will still be there. So I went into this with an open mind, ready to say that, like A Little Less Conversation, it was brilliant. But, alas, it’s really not.

Tim: Admission: I’ve never really listened to any Elvis at all (aside from the aforementioned JXL remix, which probably doesn’t really count), and have no feelings for his music one way or another – I’m happy to judge this as a song in its own right, without comparisons.

Tom: It’s technically great, of course; the new orchestral pieces are lovely and the whole thing sounds wonderful – but Elvis just doesn’t seem to be there. The drums and the instrumentation are compressed to be as loud as the vocals, and the man himself – this amazing singer and performer – is reduced to a vocal sample. If they’d have kept just half of the energy, of the charisma, of the presence of this 1970 performance, I’d probably be praising it. But it’s not. Unlike the Love album – which had the original producers watching over it – it’s been damaged in the time travel process, and what’s emerged from our end of the machine is a soulless replicant.

Tim: Perhaps, but should we be comparing it to a big energetic live performance? Even if I was just comparing it to the original studio recording, I like this a lot – there’s so much more to it that, like you said, is technically great, and I think it’s brilliant.

The Pusher – Blinded By The Dark

Definitely Radio 1 playlist-worthy.

Tim: I present you with a band called The Pusher (recently renamed from Fashion, no idea why), who aren’t so far away from The Script, once you add in a little bit of Swedishness; this is highly appropriate, given that they are in fact Swedish. They have two tracks up on their Facebook page, one of which is also on YouTube:

Tim: I enjoyed this considerably when I first heard it, and I still do. It’s got all the good bits from bands like Scouting for Girls and The Wanted, and then it adds more good bits to make an all round very listenable track, even if the ending is a little abrupt. It’s definitely Radio 1 playlist-worthy, although the chances of that are sadly small to miniscule.

Tom: This is the first case I’ve seen of “nice song, shame about the video”. I agree with everything you’ve said about the track – I could happily see this sitting on radio playlists up and down the country. There’s nothing too novel or interesting here, but it’s not needed – it’s a proper, decent, modern pop song.

I hope that’s not the official video though.

Let me explain: in the last couple of years, digital SLR cameras have got to the point where they can record HD video. That means that everyone who was able to take professional-looking pictures – those depth-of-field-heavy shots where the background’s all blurry – can now record professional-looking video for a fraction of what it used to cost.

The trouble is, it doesn’t end up looking professional. Overcome with this ability to use depth of field, it’s suddenly used all the time – so for a good portion of that video, nothing at all is in focus – until the singer suddenly looms out of the fog. Combine that with the camera’s rolling shutter, which makes the picture wobble and skew, and it’s suddenly filmed in Drunk-O-Vision.

Robyn’s latest video suffers from this as a little well, but it’s on a much better camera, with a cameraman who very much knows how to use it and with lot more footage to cut between. She can get away with it – The Pusher can’t.

Tim: Understand the point, and why it’s generally very annoying, but here I’m not so sure it applies – the whole song is about a relationship falling apart and breaking down, and for me the wobbliness and entirely-out-of-focusness of the video contributes to that. It’s the same style of filming directors often use when the world, spaceship or building is in the middle of being destroyed, and I’m guessing that here they’re going for the same effect.

Tom: Like hell are they going for the same effect. They’ve got a fancy camera and they’re using it.

Tim: Personally I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, even if this time it’s more like benefit of the massive massive doubt. We won’t discuss the second track here, partly because it’s not as good, but mostly because I can barely type the name without tears of joy springing forth. It certainly proves they’re definitely not English: Blow Me and Run. I kid you not.

Tom: For some reason that reminded me of ‘Stoppit and Tidyup‘. I think I should stop there.

The Wanted – Heart Vacancy

In which they, um, sit down. And stay seated. Throughout.

Tim: As an alternative to yesterday’s action-packed video, here’s The Wanted’s new song, Heart Vacancy, in which they, um, sit down. And stay seated. Throughout.

Tom: The video couldn’t even afford a special effect for the big ending, which just makes it look a bit confusing. Which, since they apparently flew them out to foreign parts to do the filming, seems like a bit of a cop-out.

Tim: They do one other thing: “be good-looking”, which let’s face it is all they were meant to do.

Tom: Good grief, The Wanted really are one of the most generic boy bands ever, aren’t they? There’s really nothing to note in here – I’ve been struggling to write anything for a few minutes now.

Tim: The song comes with a heavy helping of auto-tune, which makes the chorus seem a little bit whiny; aside from that it’s not too bad, although it isn’t particularly good either. I’ve listened to it three times and all I can really remember is the ‘in your heart in your heart in your heart’ line from the chorus, which isn’t a great sign.

Tom: The dance remix will go down well at under-18 club nights, I suspect. And of course, teenage girls will buy it – or at least endlessly watch the YouTube video of it. And then it’ll be forgotten. Hopefully forever.

Tim: True. Which sucks from their point of view, I suppose, but if they get too depressed they can at least take comfort in the fact that they’re not INJU5TICE, who didn’t even make it to the Top 100 and whose last “fan newsletter” was an attempt to offload the last of their merchandise.

Tom: So long, INJU5TICE, we hardly knew you. Thankfully.

Scouting for Girls – Don’t Want To Leave You

Will it sound the same as every other one?

Tom: When Scouting for Girls release a new single, there’s always the question: will it sound the same as every other Scouting for Girls single? The answer here is: yes. Yes it does. Again.

Tom: Earnest vocals over inoffensive piano, guitar and drums; vocal harmonies in the background from half way through the song; quiet piano bridge ramping up to undeservedly triumphant final chorus. Probably the same chords as their previous tracks, although I’m not going to risk falling asleep by checking.

Tim: I’ll be honest: I quite like Scouting for Girls. The music’s not particularly imaginative, but it’s good enough. True, they could have stopped after their first album and kept releasing the same singles over and over again on a three year cycle and nobody would really notice, but it’s fairly harmless.

Tom: The best I can say about this is that it’s generic and mercifully short. It’ll be reasonably popular, then sink without trace, and in a few months’ time there’ll be another one. Kind of like… huh. I’ve come up short on analogies there. Any ideas?

Tim: Well, kind of like, um, She’s So Lovely, Elvis Ain’t Dead, Heartbeat, I Wish I Was James Bond, This Ain’t A Love Song and any others I may have missed. The only thing that leaps to mind about this is the irony that it starts off being described as ‘a song you can sing along to’, and then becomes a song that isn’t really memorable in the slightest.

Cheryl Cole – Promise This

I don’t know where to start.

Tom: Let me show you a photo.

That's Tom.
That’s me. I am flicking the Vs at the tiny little dot on stage. That tiny little dot on stage is Cheryl Cole. She was, at that moment, butchering ‘Fireflies‘ – a song that’s insipid enough without being dodgily covered. I’ll be clear: I’ve got nothing against Cheryl Cole herself. She’s probably quite a nice person. But my word, she doesn’t half pick some crap songs to sing.

Tom: I don’t know where to start. The almost drum-and-bass backing? The bizarre ‘alouette, ette, ette’ that sounds like a French version of Rihanna hopped up on Es? The fact that there isn’t really even a melody to speak of through most of the song?

Tim: OH GOD IT’S JUST NOISE. First thought – it’s nice that they’ve brought R2-D2 out of retirement to help out on the instrumentals. Aside from that, just what is the point of this, erm, song, is it? To me, the repetitive bit isn’t so much ‘alouette, ette, ette’ as ‘alouette, doink, doink’, which just…um…AARGH OH DEAR LORD SHUT UP CHERYL PLEASE BEFORE I DIE.

Tom: Of course, she’ll sing it on the X Factor, and she’ll get to number one, and – with any luck – Harry Hill will make it all worthwhile again.

Tim: Ooh, wait! Because I’ve just found this, the Digital Dog remix. While I’ll never be able to forgive him for the way he butchered Love Story*, he has slightly redeemed himself by making this vaguely listenable – the chorus is still just noise, but the verses are almost slightly enjoyable.

* He cut out the key change! The key change! The narratively justified key change! That is the only reason most people put up with the first three minutes, to sing along to ‘Marry me Juliet…’, and he got rid of it! I ALMOST CRIED.

Tom: I’ll grant you that it’s a bit better, but the alouette refrain still grates like a Grate-O-Matic 5000 Turbo, and I’m still not sure she’s actually singing notes in the second part of the chorus. It’s a no from me. Sorry, pet. (See what I did there?)

Tim: Yes. Yes I do. Well done.