3OH!3 – Double Vision

Brace yourself. I’m about to say something startling.

Tom: Brace yourself, Tim. I’m about to say something startling: I’ve found a good 3OH!3 song.

Tom: Catchy as their previous ones have been, I can’t say I really enjoyed them – Starstrukk may have been in my head, but I didn’t want it to be there. This 3OH!3 track still seems to be autotuned and over-processed to hell, but it’s less shouty and in-your-face.

Tim: Really? I loved Starstrukk, and as tracks with Katy Perry go I thought it was much better than any other recent ones.

Tom: Well, yeah, if you see it as a Katy Perry track anything’s better than Teenage bloody Dream.

Tim: Fair point. Anyway, the first time I listened to this was at work on my lunch break, and I scribbled the following: “Hmm. It’s not bad, I’ll grant them that, but after about 1:30 I had a continual feeling that it was about to wrap up, and kept being surprised at how long there was left. That’s probably not a good thing, and to be honest, I don’t think there’s much to write about.”

Tom: You know what I think does the ending thing? The “HEYs” during the first chorus. They’re great when you’re expecting them – and they’ll go down very well with big crowds – but there’s so much energy in that first chorus that it sounds like it should be the last.

Tim: Having heard it a few more times at home and all that, I should like to revise my opinion. There’s still the ‘it’s almost finished’ feeling throughout most of it, but it’s gone from ‘It’s only been two minutes?’ to ‘Ooh, there’s still another minute or so to go!’ (or it would be if I thought with exclamation marks). It’s catchy, and good-catchy at that, so I hereby give it a big thumbs up from me.

Tom: The video impresses and annoys me in equal measure: the concept and execution are brilliant, and it was – according to the behind-the-scenes video – done with as little CGI as possible. But that has to be some of the most blatant in-video advertising I’ve ever seen – even if I have to concede that it does fit in.

Tim: Haha, it is and all, although I’m tempted to applaud them for their making it quite so obvious. I do like the two girls and the Daft Hands-esque routine, but the limbo thing looks weird, like the front one’s not long enough or something, and I find it mildly disconcerting.

Tom: It’s not. It’s forced-perspective. Clever trick though.

If they hadn’t had the Katy Perry hit, I’d say that this should have been one of the big summer hits. As it is: I’m hoping it’ll be one of the big autumn hits instead.

Tim: I’ll be honest – I don’t think there’s much chance of it not being.

Album Review: Hurts – Happiness

Yes, it really is called Happiness, and yes, it really has got Kylie on it.

Tim: Since, in my view, Wonderful Life is not far off Lovekiller in terms of excellence, and we reviewed Darin’s album, it would be plain rude not to review this one as well (and yes, it really is called Happiness, and yes, it really has got Kylie on it).

Hurts - Happiness

1 – Silver Lining: Great opener, really shows what they can do. Long but varied throughout. Upbeat chorus, gentle bridge, finishes with OMINOUS MALE CHANTING. 9/10

2 – Wonderful Life: As previously mentioned, brilliant provided you don’t have to watch the video and don’t mind public transport inconsistencies. 10/10

3 – Blood, Tears & Gold: Not sure how to describe this as a good song; it very definitely is, but I’m not entirely sure why. The bits all just fit together, really. 8/10

4 – Sunday: One of the most upbeat; chorus of ‘just another lonely Sunday’. Very sing-along-able if you’re happy, though you’d need to alter the words. 9/10

5 – Stay: ‘I’ve got Drops of Jupiter stuck in my head. Oh well. Let’s write some songs.’ Similarity aside, however, this song is utterly fantastic. 10/10

6 – Illuminated: Seems like a fight between quiet boring verses and a loud exciting chorus for control of the song; the chorus wins, which is a relief. 7/10

7 – Evelyn: A perfect example of a song that builds throughout. Starts quietly tapping on your window; ends up kicking your door down. 8/10

8 – Better Than Love: Deservedly their first single. Electrodance backing, unusually energetic singing; I find this impossible to criticise. 10/10

9 – Devotion (featuring Kylie Minogue): ‘I’ve got Nature’s Law stuck in my head.’ Verses aren’t much; good chorus, but too similar for my liking.* Nice instrumental close, though. 6/10

10 – Unspoken: Remarkably boring for the first three minutes, but builds up a little bit for a fairly good final 90 seconds. 6/10

11 – Water: ‘This is the last song, yes? Can we get away with reusing the chorus melody from the first one?’ No, and the rest of it’s just a bit dull. 4/10

11a – Verona (Hidden track): An odd one – the group male chanting from the beginning comes back as a personal love song, and I’m not sure what to think of it.

tl;dr: Can be a bit too reminiscent of other songs, tailing off towards the end. Good if you like your music happy and sad simultaneously, though. 8/10

* Nothing against Embrace – I love Nature’s Law, just not reused in a completely different song.

Scissor Sisters – Any Which Way

A decent enough tune, but the verses don’t seem to have much to them.

Tom: The new Scissor Sisters single – the second one off the new album – is out today.

Tom: I don’t know what’s more surprising – that the Scissor Sisters are still going, or that they’re still good.

Tim: Hmm. I loved Fire With Fire, and this one doesn’t really live up to it for me. It’s still a decent enough tune, but the verses don’t seem to have much to them and are largely forgettable; thirty seconds after I’ve heard it I’m remembering it as just one repeating chorus, which I will probably be singing to myself for at least the next 24 hours.

Tom: The video’s a textbook case of ‘chuck in as many ideas as you can, some of them will work’, but somehow it still seems like a cohesive whole.

Tim: You’re right about that. I like to imagine them having filmed about half a dozen separate and completely different ones and then just cutting between them at random intervals throughout the song.

Tom: Any video which features Ana Matronic pulling open her top and sexily intoning “just take me” has at least something I can appreciate – even if the sushi roll bombardment that follows sends rather confusing messages.

Joe McElderry – Ambitions

He’s spent the past nine months turning into Mika.

Tim: Turns out that X Factor winner Joe McElderry’s spent the past nine months turning into Mika, as demonstrated by his first proper single Ambitions (a cover of Donkeyboy’s song from last year), which debuted on Radio 1 on Sunday evening.

Tom: I have to own up here: I haven’t heard the original version, so at least I can’t complain that he’s ruined a song.

That’s not a Mika-style introduction – I was expecting some deep gravelly voice to kick in, or perhaps even Gerard Way in Black Parade mode. Once I got over the fact that he’s a few octaves higher than I expected, it started to come together.

Tim: I think it’s rather brilliant, over all. Obviously not Hera Björk brilliant, but very enjoyable nonetheless. Also, unlike Alexandra Burke’s Bad Boys, it hasn’t got…oh, I won’t go into that again.

Tom: Huh. “Flo Rida”. “Florida”. I just got that. There’ll be a female version of him called “Miss Ouri” soon, you watch.

Tim: Seriously? Wow. Anyway, now I’ll go into Simon Cowell mode, because it’s appropriate. Is it the best song ever? Of course not. Is the ending a little bit drawn out? Perhaps. Could it do without the rather irritating hissing that permeates most of it? Definitely.

Tom: The hissing is probably YouTube compression, to be fair.

Tim: Afraid not – I’ve checked the original broadcast (which yes, I know is also compressed, but not as much), and it’s on there as well. Anyway, is it the best X Factor debut song for quite some time, possibly even bettering Bleeding Love? One million per cent yes.

Tom: It seems very much by-the-numbers, which I suppose is a strange complaint from someone who generally likes by-the-numbers music. So I went and listened to the original Donkeyboy version, and that doesn’t trigger this complaint in my head: perhaps it’s not so overproduced as, well, everything that disembarks the 3:45 from Cowellville.

Tim: See, I love the overproduction on it – I did like the original a lot, and what they’ve added on top here just, well, adds to it, brilliantly. I will accept, however, that the video for Donkeyboy’s version is very very good indeed, and that Joe’s is very unlikely to match up.

This version just seems… empty. I can only assume that Simon Cowell has feasted on Joe’s soul.

It’s what the man does best.

The Saturdays – Higher

‘Very good’ becomes ‘flipping awful’

Tim: This here is the upcoming single from The Saturdays, and it’s more or less very good. The intro makes it sound a bit dodgy, but forty seconds in the chorus hits and it becomes amazing.

Tom: I’d say it becomes mediocre. It’s not got the bounce of ‘Up’, or even what passed for soulfulness in Issues (a song that will, for complicated reasons, always be associated with chlamydia testing in my head).

Tim: Um, thanks for sharing. Erm…sorry, I have completely forgotten what I was saying. Oh, right, the song. Yes. The autotune’s a bit thick for my liking, but the ‘lift it, lift it higher’ is too good for something like that to pull it down. The bridge fits nicely as well, providing a nice bit of calm after a loud chorus before building the final. All round: jolly good.

HOWEVER, all is not jolly good. Because what I have done, rather cheekily, is shown you the album version of the song.

Tom: Oh, snap.

Tim: The single version is here, and it’s flipping awful. The reason for this makes himself known approximately three seconds in. Now, I have made my distaste for Flo Rida clear on quite a few occasions, but it’s only now we can get a proper contrast between a song with him and one without him. And my God, is there a contrast.

Tom: Oh, no. I’m backing out of this. I know what’s coming here.

Tim: He craps all over the aforementioned rather pleasant bridge, which is bad enough, but to top it all off he does that stupid shout out thing at the start (which, given the five-strong band, ends up sounding more like a school register), and then puts himself first.

Right, let me make this clear. In capital letters, because that might be more effective. FLO RIDA, YOU ARE IN THERE FOR PRECISELY TWENTY FOUR SECONDS. THAT’S 12% OF THE SONG. YOU DO NOT GET TOP BILLING, YOU UTTER SHITE.

Tom: …you done?

Tim: Ahem. Okay, I’ll be a bit more rational. You may say, ‘Tim, you could look past the autotune, and that’s there for a lot more than 24 seconds. Why can’t you just look past him, or even just temporarily mute it like you do for granny-mugger-but-somehow-sob-story Rachel’s appalling bit in the otherwise excellent Hero?’

Tom: Did you just call that version of ‘Hero’ excellent? Really? I know it’s well-meaning and noble and all that, but excellent?

Tim: The key change. Just, the key change. But excuse me, you’ve cut me off mid-rant, and I don’t appreciate it.

Tom: Sorry. Why can’t you look past it?

Tim: I don’t know. His presence just somehow drags the whole thing down, because I know he’s there in the background. The small amount of ‘crap R&B’ness that was there – the autotune, the intro that wasn’t great to start with – somehow gets amplified and the song as a whole is just ruined. THIS SUCKS.

Tom: To be fair, it was doing a good job of that anyway.

Tim: Wow. I haven’t got that angry in quite some time. Feels quite good, actually.

Tinie Tempah – Written in the Stars

Tim Jeffries, ruining hip hop for other people since 2010!

Tom: I know it’s not the normal style of music we review, but the new single by Tinie Tempah is bloody amazing. It’s released on 27th September, and it’s called Written in the Stars – not to be confused with the old Elton John and Leanne Rimes track. There are three reasons why I like it:

  • Tinie Tempah actually shouts “let’s go” just before he starts.
  • The hook is lush. I don’t mean that in the slang sense, I mean that in the same way you’d describe a tree. It’s a genius bit of complicated, layered, melodramatic major-key pop genius with a synthesised string section behind it.
  • He namedrops Malorie Blackman, the young adult science fiction writer. I had to listen to that line again just to make sure I heard it right.

His earlier stuff seemed gimmicky, but this isn’t: it’s a full grown-up British rap track, and it deserves to go worldwide.

Tim: Good: the music. Perhaps even ‘very good’. The chorus is excellent, and while the rapping isn’t my thing I could happily have this on in the background. Eric Turner is definitely someone I may look into at some point in the future.

Bad: the lyrics. The second half of the first verse and the second verse seem to give a vague ‘look at me, I started low down, but I’ve worked my way up slowly but surely’ autobiographical idea, showing us he’s a good guy, he’s had stuff to work though; let’s think about him and feel for him. This would be great – it could even be slightly motivational for school kids who are feeling down on their luck. Except it can’t, because he starts out by more or less saying ‘look at me, I’m flipping awesome’, Flo Rida-style, which makes him seem like an arrogant prick and kind of destroys any desire I have to get to know him. I’m sure you’re not, Tinie – in fact, you’re probably the lovely guy we see in the rest of the song – but you’ve ruined it. Sorry.

Horrendous: one lyric in particular. ‘Was leaded astray’. I don’t care if it was to make some (not particularly apparent) point about a bad education or something: it’s awful, and no excuse will change that. You’ve had enough dodgy stresses elsewhere that ‘I was led astray’ would work just as well and not be massively annoying.

Like I said, I could more than happily have this on in the background. The music’s brilliant, and I can’t really fault it. If I have to listen to it and pay attention to it, though: sorry, but no.

Tom: Damn. Now you mention it, it’s like the spell is broken. That ‘brap brap’ in the first verse annoys the hell out of me, come to think of it, along with some of the dodgy stresses you mentioned. It’s a shame because the rest of it really is so good.

I tried hunting for other music by the same team, but the producer’s name is simply “Ishi” – which is ungooglable – and I really can’t find anything else about this particular Eric Turner online. That’s annoying because I want an album that sounds like this… only without Tinie Tempah.

Sorry, Tinie.

Tim: Hurrah! Tim Jeffries, ruining hip hop for other people since 2010!

Ke$ha – Take It Off

A textbook case of ‘Nice Video, Shame About the Song’.

Tom: This track out on Monday, and it’s been suggested by Gray, who writes:

My opinion of the song probably shouldn’t be brought up in polite conversation. I’m sure that’s somewhat self-explanatory. Though apparently she once vomited in Paris Hilton’s shoe closet, so there’s at least some redeeming value to her.

This is a textbook case of Nice Video, Shame About the Song. Full marks for the director here, if only for pointing out – in a fairly subtle form – that she’s blatantly ripping off the Sand Dance (or ‘that Egyptian standard snippet‘).

Tim: Certainly is quite a video, although I have at least one definite issue with it – given that most of it’s all metaphorical and probably arty and stuff, why is there a bloke throwing a bin when she sings about throwing bins around? The literalness just seems way out of place.

Actually, two – there’s nothing in the music to signify any reason at all why it should suddenly change from a standard walk/dance around video with normal people to one where everybody’s in a nightclub and made of paint. No change of key, rhythm, tone, lyrical mood, anything. So why does it? It’s as though they filmed half of it, then had a sudden realisation of ‘actually, this song really is shite, isn’t it? Hmm. Maybe we could try to make the rest of the video really awesome, and that’ll make up for it.’

Tom: To be fair, they’re not in a nightclub – they’re in a drained motel swimming pool. I’m not sure whether that reflects artistic choice, low budget, or a subtle dig at Kesha.

Tim: And a tiny third one – the first shot you see of her pulling whatever it is out of the car looks she’s suddenly grabbed an owl by the scruff of its neck, which is just plain nasty.

Tom: Clearly it’s hungover.

Tim: As for the music, well, as you say, it really is a shame. The verses are dire, with all twelve* lines in them going together to give the grand message: ‘let’s go get pissed.’ But of course, Ke$ha is special and well hip and famous and blingy, so she can’t do anything without a gold Trans-Am or, um, a water bottle she’s filled up with whiskey. Classy. Their only benefit is making the chorus seem almost hummable, although once you’ve heard it seven or eight times you don’t really have much of a choice.

Also, what’s with the fifteen seconds of Can You Feel It at 2:26?

*Twelve! I know! Crazy, how long these songs are!

Tom: Well, the rest of it’s ripped from the Sand Dance, she may as well take some other inspirations while she’s at it.

Tim: A final note: this song has inspired me to write a Definitive List of Music People I Hate. So far it contains Ke$ha, Flo Rida and Kanye West. I won’t deny that part of me wants to put Robyn on there as well, but I don’t think I can inflict that sort of company on her, no matter how inept she is at finishing a tune.

Example – Last Ones Standing

Oh man. This could be so good.

Tom: Oh man. This could be so good. The first few seconds show such promise – that eighties orchestra-hit sample is ace. And there are so many good things here. The quiet ‘ooh, ooh’s in the background. The chorus, which I caught myself tapping my foot along to on first listen.

Tim: Ooh, I do like that – intro started good, and it kept on going. At about 2:40, I thought it was about to wrap up; I’m very glad that it didn’t, though, because the bit after that is even better than what came before.

Tom: Pity about his voice, really.

Tim: I don’t know, I think his voice is okay – he can handle both the verses and chorus well enough, and combined with the backing track I think it works great.

Tom: Don’t get me wrong – I’m not ruling it out just because it’s rap, or just because it’s a British guy. Example’s last one, Kickstarts, was excellent all the way through, and his voice was a perfect match for it – perhaps because the faster pace of the vocals seemed to fit, or because the background samples were just that bit fuller. But it just doesn’t work for me here.

Tim: I prefer it to Kickstarts because here both the verses and chorus are good, whereas the verses in that never did much for me. It did have a pretty cool video, though.

Tom: This video’s not bad either. Despite a few too many modern things in the background to really sell it as being retro, it still has a charm to it.

Tim: A few points about it, though:

  • why is he ordering drinks in a police interview room?
  • I hope the fighting is meant to be blindingly fake, because it is, although there’s enough doubt there for it to be mildly annoying
  • nice explosion
  • nice jumping, even if it isn’t necessarily the most efficient way to chase after someone

Tom: The phrase ‘Tesco Value Zach Braff’ is also running through my head. That’s a bit cruel though.

Tim: That is a little bit cruel, yes. And a little bit justified.

Jedward – All The Small Things

He’s used “J to the E to the D”, he doesn’t get a second chance.

Tom: Now I’ve got two problems with this.

Tim:Only two?

Tom: Yeah, and strangely, Jedward himself is not one of them.

First of all: it’s the banter. I know they’re a novelty act, but songs should not have banter in the middle of them. It didn’t work for Gareth Gates and the Kumars, it won’t work now.

Tim: True. Is that in the actual song as well, or just the video?

Tom: I’m not going to buy it to find out. He’s used “J to the E to the D”, he doesn’t get a second chance.

Second problem: I can’t tell the difference between this and the Blink 182 version. Or, rather, between this and a cheap rip-off version from a £2 supermarket “compilation” CD. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, new here at all.

Tim: That does, on the other hand, mean that if they stop doing covers they might, at some point in the distant future, pass as something more than a novelty.

Tom: Fortunately, I’ve got an alternative. I defy you to listen to this without starting to sway when the slow bit that builds up to the chorus kicks in.

Tim: You waited until the chorus?

Rick Astley – Lights Out

Play two copies one frame apart next to each other, you get Rick Astley in 3D. No kidding.

Tom: How did we miss this?! Martijn emailed us this, and said “…it’s a Rick Roll. But modern. And awesome.”

Tom: It’s a damn good tune, although it has that ‘in one ear, out the other’ quality; I can’t remember any of the lyrics or even much of the melody even having listened to it a couple of times. Is it listenable? Sure. It is playlistable? Absolutely. Is it a classic? No. Does it need one big ‘oomph’ moment, drums kicking in and ever guitar wailing, when he comes back from the bridge? Yeah, it really does. But never mind: it’s a new Rick Astley single! I wonder if he’d be putting this single out if it hadn’t been for the internet deciding to adore him?

Tim: If I was a little less sensible, I would write ‘Are you sure you’ve got the right video?’ Because this is very definitely not ‘Rick Astley off of Never Gonna Give You Up’. This is an actual modern song – hell, in the video he barely looks old enough to have made songs 25 years ago.

Tom: I swear the man has, up in his attic, a painting of himself that’s steadily getting older.

Tim: If he’s planning a comeback, this is a Good Thing To Do*, because it means he’s brought out a song that mum and dad can listen to and think back to the good old days while the teenage kid hears it playing downstairs and thinks, ‘Ooh, I like this.’ He’s popular with the grown-ups, and the teenager has to work out how he can still be cool if he likes his parents’ music.

Anyway, ‘modern’ isn’t much to say about a track, so here’s something else: like you say, it’s not particularly memorable, but the chorus has a good build-up during it. Or at least, I remember thinking it did, but it’s now been ten minutes since I heard it and I actually can’t really remember how the build-up went. Not at all memorable, then, I suppose. I do remember that I liked it, though, and that’s what mostly matters.

* See also Take That: compare 1995’s How Deep Is Your Love with 2006’s Patience.

Tom: As for the video: they have a Steadicam and they’re not afraid to use it. Is it a callback to Never Gonna Give You Up? Who knows. That constant rotation means, though, that if you play two copies of the video one frame apart next to each other, you get Rick Astley in 3D. No kidding. It’s actually a really convincing effect.