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.

Taylor Swift – Mine

Tom has just discovered how to be a complete dick at karaoke.

Tom: Taylor Swift’s new single leaked online the other week, and was swiftly released properly in response. It’s just hit the US Billboard charts, and no doubt it’ll be over on these shores sooner or later; the official video just came out, too.

In related news, I have just discovered how to be a complete dick at karaoke. Here is the karaoke backing track for Love Story by Taylor Swift: your challenge is to sing You Belong With Me over the top of it. Provided you nail the key change at the end, and can deal with the harmony singer on the backing track throwing you off, they fit perfectly.

Tim: Oh, you and your… you-ness. Good work. You been doing karaoke?

Tom: If by “karaoke” you mean “singing along too loud while wearing headphones” then yes. The two songs have the same structure and same chords.

The new one’s got roughly the same structure, but then so does every schlager song in existence. At least it sounds a bit different, even if it’s the same “oh look, we’re in love, and despite some setbacks we’re still in love at the end” that describes most of her songs.

Tim: In a similar vein, did you know Tik Tok and California Gurls are the same song?

Tom: Not surprising – they’re by the same producer.

Tim: Do we need to bother reviewing Mine? It’s absolutely nothing special at all: if people liked Love Story and You Belong With Me they’ll like this as well, and if they didn’t they won’t. I think we should leave the summing up for YouTube commenter MoonfulBlue, who seems to live in her own little world of fluffy bunnies and pink clouds, but has an appropriate take on Taylor Swift’s music:

‘I love how Taylor’s songs always talk about things in life that could actually happen and they don’t talk about drugs/sex/violence and instead, love is in place.’

Alexandra Burke feat. Laza Morgan – Start Without You

The first mainstream song about female masturbation since “I Touch Myself”.

Tim: So Alexandra Burke’s bringing out her new single in two and a half weeks, and the video’s so ridiculously gay it’s quite likely this song’ll be the new Torchwood theme.

Tim: The music starts off entirely cack, with a trademark Alexandra moment of self-doubt having everybody else’s name shouted out first*, but then the chorus lands and you feel you should be in Hawaii surrounded by coconuts and pineapples, and it’s rather catchy. The rest of the song improves as a whole, and I think it’s a good’un.

But dear lord, the video… It’s just…I really don’t know. I have absolutely no clue what logical thought process could possibly have led to this as an idea for a music video. It’s not bad, yet nor is it good, and it sure as hell isn’t average. On your standard scale of quality, it seems to defy placement.

* This is the one thing that really annoyed me about Bad Boys, which was otherwise a ruddy marvellous effort. That cock Flo Rida had only a few rapping lines and wasn’t the lead artist, yet it started by him yelling ‘FLO RIDA! Alexandra…’ Nob. And I know RedOne’s good and all that (*cough* Darin *cough*), but since when did the producer ever get a shout out?

Tom: Haha. This is terrible. I mean, there’s nothing particularly bad about it musically, but it sounds like someone took the backing of Agadoo, jazzed it up a bit, and then got Ranking Roger to do a bit of Jamaican sort-of-rap at the start like in mostly-forgotten mid-90s Pato Banton hit Bubblin’ Hot.

Also, as soon as you realise the lyrics are one giant sexual metaphor, the whole song makes sense:

“Oh, here I go, drip droppin’ way down low
You’re ’bout to miss
Winding to this
Don’t make me start without you”

Er, anyone under 12 probably shouldn’t read that last paragraph. Not that they’ll understand it anyway. Actually, let me rephrase: don’t let your parents read that last paragraph, it’ll just be awkward.

Tim: I hadn’t actually looked at the lyrics, and I’m a little disturbed. Not by them, but by you and your choice of lyrics to display the metaphor. You could have had

Body like a weapon that’ll make you go boom
Get like a drum I’ll make you go…boom

or, even more so,

You’re the only one and I’m all on my back
The only one I want on my back

— but no. You chose drip droppin’ way down low. Seriously, man, what’s the matter with you?

Tom: Because all the others are generic, all the others sound like the vague comments made in every other song. There’s no other explanation for that particular verse though – I even checked Urban Dictionary, and the only definition it gave was a visit from Aunt Flo, which frankly turns the song down an entirely different route.

Once you start looking, there’s even more evidence: her hand gesture at 1:51, for example. The only conclusion I can draw is this: Alexandra Burke’s “Start Without You” is the first truly mainstream song about female masturbation since “I Touch Myself”.

Tim: Also from the lyrics comes a massive annoyance that I hadn’t previously noticed, although it’s not just in this song because I’ve had it for quite some time: when the sod did ‘I’m going to’ become ‘Imma’? It’s the most ridiculous contraction since, well, ever. In fact, it’s not even a contraction when you compare it to ‘I’ll’. Utter crap. I blame Kanye West.

Tom: I’m sorry, are you from the past? First, the Black Eyed Peas released a single called ‘Imma Be‘ in May last year – although the cover of that was a picture of a bee, so well done there. Imma is now so common that even I use it on occasion, and (like everyone else on the internet) I’m a middle-class white guy. I tend to use ‘immana’ more, but it’s steadily creeping in.

Tim: I know it’s been around for a while, but it’s one thing that really really gets me, because I just don’t see how it makes sense. Although I did feel incredibly old when writing it, so I’ll accept you have a point.

Tom: One final comment: is Laza Morgan the guy off Mysterious Girl? Because the opening sounds remarkably similar now I think about it.

Tim: Wikipedia tells me the Mysterious Girl guy was called Bubbler Ranx, so no, although we still have the sublime Ant & Seb to link Alexandra and that song.

McFly – Party Girl

It’s the British Millennial generation’s version of Bob Dylan going electric.

Tom: Oh blimey. McFly have suddenly gone all Taio Cruz on us. I really disliked this on first listen, but now it’s growing on me. And that video’s a bit more grown-up than the image they used to project. Are they really making a full movie? That’s either Growing the Beard or Jumping the Shark and I’m really not sure which.

What we basically have here is the British Millennial generation’s version of Bob Dylan going electric. I reckon this is a carefully calculated single release: the rest of the album will be more traditional stuff for the long-term fans, but this is meant to attract the kids who’ve gotten used to Lady Gaga and 3OH!3 in the last couple of years.

Tim: Well, apparently they have ‘innovative plans‘ that look all intense, so I wouldn’t count on it being a one-off, especially considering that the next single is actually written with Taio Cruz. That said, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. If growing up involves making a film with Harry doing the dirty with a vampire, then I say bring it on. It’s only 30 minutes long, rather than a full film, and good or bad I think it’ll be worth watching.

Personally I think their best track was Do Ya (which had the zombie video a couple of years back), and I prefer that style, but this is more up to date and you can tell that they haven’t done it just to be modern, but because they like the stuff. They haven’t sold out or changed dramatically – I like this one, as much as I liked some of their older output – just adapted, and done that fairly well. The main thing is that this passes the biggest test of all, in that you can tell it’s McFly. A different McFly, sure, but still McFly.

Tom: I can’t believe I’m about to have this argument, but: there is no way in hell that Do Ya is McFly’s best single. That’s blatantly Star Girl – and 5 Colours In Her Hair wasn’t exactly shabby either. What song did they choose to duet with the Jonas Brothers on? Not Do Ya, that’s for sure.

Tim: Oh, I’m not saying the others are bad. Star Girl is good, but only really because of the woo-oooh-ooh-ooh. Yes, that’s great, and it’s brilliant to listen to because you can join in and get excited with it (especially if you’re duetting at Wembley in front of a ginormous crowd), but the rest of it just seems to be filler just leading up to the bit that everyone likes to sings along to. 5 Colours, Obviously and All About You were all decent enough as well, but there’s something about Do Ya that I really like. It starts big and never really calms down until the end.

It also has a bit that reminds me of Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.

Tom: You know, at this point I’m just going to nod and agree, because I think arguing my point any further would destroy whatever shreds of credibility I have left. Also, let’s be honest, the reason it sounds like McFly is mainly because of whatever Tom’s accent is. (Seriously, I can’t work out what it is, and I’ve got a bloody linguistics degree.)

Tim: The first two notes get me excited because I think I’m about to hear Bad Romance.

Tom: It is very close, isn’t it? It’s like Chipmunk’s Look for Me – everyone goes ‘ooh, it’s I Gotta Feeling‘, and then the woah-woahs start.

Tim: One other thing about McFly is that any time I hear someone say ‘it’s all about you’ I really really want someone to invent something where you can just push a button and a relevant bit of music would start playing and interrupt the conversation.

Tom: You and me both, Tim. You and me both.