Jill Johnson – Is It Hard Being A Man

“A strong “look, dickhead, appreciate what you’ve got and quit moaning” message.“

Tim: Starting in 1996, the queen of country schlager…

Tom: Wait, I remember saying that modern pop-country was just schlager with a mandolin! And now you’re telling me there’s actually a mixed genre of them?

Tim: Pretty much, yeah – and Jill is the absolute master. She used to release albums on a roughly annual basis, but nothing’s been seen since the end of 2016. Well, until now.

Tim: Pretty good return, no? Nice crash in for the chorus, with a strong “look, dickhead, appreciate what you’ve got and quit moaning” message.

Tom: It is, with the caveat that the part immediately before that crash-in gives me a brief, frustrating flash of either Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, or the Hollies’ ‘Air That I Breathe’. I know that’s a really specific complaint to have, but it’s some odd combination of the melody and vocal style, the particular chord progression those songs share, and the percussion. Listen to the “no” at 0:48, the “choose” at 1:35.

Tim: Hmm…

Tom: Anyway, yes, once I got over that and we got back to the chorus: it’s not bad! And schlager, even down-tempo schlager like this, is always fun.

Tim: Favourite part for me: those twiddly counter melody guitar bits right at the end, which just about stops it getting boring by repeating too much. It’s in danger of it, as I don’t think anyone would really complain if it stopped just before they came in, but it’s saved. And it stays a decent track. It’s good.

Weezer – Stand By Me

“It’s possible to do covers in an interesting way!”

Tom: I know, I know, we’re meant to talk about europop here. This isn’t European, and it’s not really pop. But I want to talk about Weezer’s Teal Album, because it might be the laziest cover album I’ve ever heard.

Tim: Having heard a couple of songs from that, I’m not minded to disagree.

Tom: I can absolutely see why Weezer released a covers album. Their version of Africa has been getting a ridiculous amount of airplay (despite, in my opinion, not even being the best Africa cover of 2018), and their actual tracks… well, they haven’t. They’ve still got a fanbase that’ll buy it, and the press will cover it: why not do a cover album?

Tim: Fair.

Tom: But take a listen to the tracks. They sound like an imitation of the originals, like a tribute band. Mr Blue Sky even has the same spoken introduction. You might as well listen to the originals, because there’s nothing new here.

Tim: So…

Tom: The exception is this.

Tom: Because Stand By Me is a standard. It’s one of the most covered songs in the world. And because the original is so simply produced, it doesn’t take much for a band to put their own stamp on it: even if it’s just replacing the strings with a distorted electric guitar and maybe going to the harmony line a couple of times.

Tim: True. Still doesn’t make this a particularly interesting cover, though.

Tom: It’s possible to do covers well! It’s possible to do covers in an interesting way! The Teal Album is, sadly, neither of those. I’ll bet it’ll sell, though.

Saturday Flashback: Wizex – Tusen Och En Natt

“See if you can place it.”

Tom: I was driving through Sweden last week, Tim, and somehow I found this on the radio. Wizex have been going since 1973; this 1999 number translates as “Thousand And One Nights”, and it’s your typical dansband track with lyrics about love and devotion. It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t work out why until much, much later. See if you can place it.

Tim: Ah, see this is where me being more of a Melodifestivalen nut than you harms the narrative. I’ll play along for our reader, though,

Tim: Ooh, Tom, I don’t know. Tell me, do.

Tom: Oh, don’t patronise me. Anyway, the next stage along was this version, turned into almost-Christmassy schlager-pop with a near-aggressive key change and credited just to the singer, from Melodifestivalen 1999. And from there: well, you tell the story

Tim: Words are rewritten in English, as per Sweden’s tradition for a non-English victor, and then we’ve (SPOILER for 1999) a beautiful Eurovision champion. Let’s have a watch, shall we?

Tim: Fun education in return for your efforts, though: Charlotte’s the aunt of Sebastian Ingrosso, of Swedish House Mafia and Axwell Λ Ingrosso fame.

Hugo Helmig – Young Like This

“I’m well aware I’m going into Grampa Simpson territory”

Tim: It almost saddens me to say this, but we’re dragging out the ‘we’re young so let’s have fun’ trope again.

Tom: Two rhyme schemes I hate in a row! “Young like this / dumb like this” may be the most irritatingly trite lyric I’ve heard in a while.

Tim: I dunno, I think it’s alright. But it’s the message I want to discuss, because, while I’m well aware I’m going into Grampa Simpson territory, here’s the thing: it’s bullshit.

Tom: You are entirely correct, although how much of that is based on the no-doubt-reasonable explanation you’re about to give, and how much is based on me being in my thirties now, I’m not sure.

Tim: Hugo (from Denmark) is university age right now, and yes I will accept that it is good to have fun at university and engage in one’s youth. But it is arguably so much better to have fun in your early to mid twenties, when you don’t have to worry about essays and dissertations, and the worst that’ll happen is you’ll get a stern ticking off for turning up to work with a hangover. You have experience and knowledge under your belt to stop you making a complete prick of yourself and dying, and you’re also not so worried about waking up tomorrow needing reading glasses and a toupee that you feel you need to get it all out of your system.

Tom: Harsh.

Tim: But fair. Basically, RELAX HUN, you’ve got at least a decade left of enjoying yourself, so stop moaning.

Tom: Welcome to your thirties, Tim.

Tim: A pleasure to be here.

Isle of You – Change Of Heart

“Still good? I’d say still good.”

Tom: Why do I know that name? Have we talked about them before?

Tim: Indeed, and at the risk of setting undue expectations, they’ve been rather well received, largely because their synth-style sits bang in the middle of ‘yep, this is CHVRCHES’ territory. So, bearing that in mind…

Tim: Still good? I’d say still good.

Tom: I don’t like that pre-chorus or middle eight! There are plenty of bits I do like, but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get over the rest of it.

Tim: Oh, shame, because I’ve little negative to say here It’s not as loud as previously, but in this case it’s not remotely a bad thing, because it gives everything a better chance to be heard properly and appreciated bit by bit. The great voice, the nice instruments, and generally just the…wholeness of it, which I’m aware sound ridiculous but basically I just think this track sounds good.

Tom: There are a lot of good elements but heavens, there are some irritating bits in here. Even the “change of heart” bit in the chorus, which initially sounded like a nice 80s throwback, started to grate for me by the end. This… is not for me.

Tim: But me? I press play, and I enjoy it. And that’s pretty much what I need from a track. Not to be blown away by it every time, but just to this “ahh, this is nice”.

Pitbull feat. Rhea – Ocean To Ocean

Tom: I guess we should talk about this.

Tim: Oh, boy should we talk about this.

Tom: Here’s the thing: the internet has recently decided that it loves Toto’s Africa , to the extent that Weezer were essentially bullied into covering it. That cover is getting a surprising amount of US airplay.

Given that, I can absolutely see why Pitbull took this and ran with it. The internet has already decided it hates him; why not lean into it and enjoy the royalties?

Tom: CONTROVERSIAL OPINION: for the parts that involve anyone and anything other than Pitbull, this cover of Africa is better than Weezer’s cover of Africa. It does something different and interesting! There’s a proper drum fill! There are even, I think, some interesting harmony parts going on in the background of that chorus.

Tim: Do you know, I don’t disagree with a single word of that. You’re right, it’s really good.

Tom: This is pretty much what an Almighty Records cover of Africa would be like, and I think we can agree that’d be an amazing cover if it existed.

Tim: Hands down.

Tom: The problem is, of course, Pitbull, doing the exact self-aggrandising schtick he’s been doing for years.

Tim: Yes. He is, basically, Jason Derulo, Nicki Minaj and Wally Williams all rolled into one. There was potential – and he blew it. Dick.

Troye Sivan – Bloom

“No, it’s a song about flowers”

Tim: Fancy a song about bumming?

Tom: Not this early in the morning.

Tim: Tough.

Tim: I mean obviously it’s not actually mentioned in the song, and whenever he’s asked he just says “no, it’s a song about flowers”, but if you look at the lyrics it’s bloody obvious, and he did tweet “#BopBoutBottoming” briefly before deleting it, and he previously described it as “the most subversively queer song on the album…almost like a little inside joke”, so basically draw your own conclusions.

Tom: I’m sure he’ll get along really well with Inner Circle, although I’m not sure they’ll promise to hold his hand.

Tim: It’s a lovely song, either way, with both the lyrics and music bringing that sense of vulnerability that most people can relate to, be it about that specific situation, or first times in general.

Tom: Is it, though? Those two-note verses aren’t really pleasant to listen to, and the chorus doesn’t have much more going for it. The weird whisper-echo in the middle eight grates like fingers on a blackboard for me. It’s got one chorus too many, too.

Tim: Oh, shame, because I’ve got none of those issues. The video I’ll go with as ‘mildly disconcerting’, because I know that’s not meant to look realistic or anything but it still creeps me out quite a bit – like, I know it’s your first time and all, but do you really need that much lube?

Tom: Mate.

Tim: Hello! BUT IF YOU LIKED THIS: other songs you may enjoy include “Harder You Get” by Scissor Sisters, “The Magic Position” by Patrick Wolf and “I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)” by Rachel Stevens.

Saturday Reject: Ida Redig – Allting Som Vi Sa

“It might win ten or twenty years ago. Obviously, for that reason, I like it.”

Tim: Pleasingly, this year Melodifestivalen has been largely devoid of turkeys, and any that did make it in have been binned off in the early rounds.

Tom: But in turn, that’ll mean some good songs have been kicked out too?

Tim: Sadly, yes – this one, for example, only managed fifth in heat 2, despite being a really rather good number.

Tim: With the quick beat underneath and the bright and shiny CDs in the background (Why? Well, why not?) it reminded me quite a bit of the (still outstanding) You & I, from Norway’s selection process in 2012. Doesn’t quite match up to that in terms of general outrageousness of the staging, but it terms of the music it holds a decent candle to it.

Tom: It’s almost schlager, but not quite — it’s a bit more modern than that. Give it a dance beat and a key change and it’d fit in quite nicely ten or twenty years ago. Heck, it might win ten or twenty years ago. Obviously, for that reason, I like it.

Tim: Strong vocal, heck of a beat, good melody, a band that are good at pretending to play instruments, and overall not a lot to complain about. Often with this reject theme, we ask what the song did wrong. Here, I’m not sure we can, because I don’t think it did anything wrong – it just wasn’t quite as good as the really good ones.

Stevie Wonder feat. Ariana Grande – Faith

“That is a heck of a combination.”

Tom: Yep, you’re reading that right. That is a heck of a combination. And if you’re wondering why: it’s for an animated movie — but given that similar circumstances gave us Pharrell’s Happy and Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling… don’t rule it out based on that.

Tim: Hell no – we’ve also got Let It Go and How Far I’ll Go, so I’ll never judge a song on that.

Tom: I’ve said for a long while, Tim, that there are three tests I use for a good pop song: do I find myself moving along to it, even just tapping my feet, on the first listen? Can I sing at least of some of the chorus after one listen? And do I immediately want to hit replay?

This passed all three tests. Only just on the chorus one, but it did.

Tim: Those are fair tests, and yet I have to say: not really, slightly maybe, no. That’s unduly harsh just outright like that, but still, not a fan here.

Tom: I guess I can understand that — because if I try and me a bit more objective, I don’t think it’s a really great bit of songwriting. But I thought that about Happy too, and about Can’t Stop The Feeling, and I’m still not bored of either of them. And listen to that production! The vocals are (of course) spectacular, the production is spot on, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome: this is an under-three-minute song that lasts under three minutes, just like it should.

Tim: Hmm – technically you’re right with all that, and yet annoyingly, I don’t feel it. Just doesn’t excite me at all.

Tom: Well, for me at least: this is good.

Matoma & Gia – Heart Won’t Forget

“A slightly summery track?”

Tim: As we muddle our way through the depths of midwinter, shall we have a slightly summery track to raise our spirits?

Tom: Okay, first up: the chorus – and the whistling bit – is mostly the middle eight from Wrecking Ball. “Don’t you ever say I just walked away,” etc etc. Probably a coincidence, still unfortunate, because it’s all I can hear.

Tim: Oh, YES it is, and that may explain why I liked it so much. Admittedly the message of it doesn’t make it a massively spirit-raising song, with the whole “we were pretty great but then it kind of went to shit” vibe throughout; on the other hand, that’s a cracking riff they’ve got going on in the chorus, wherever it came from, and the whistling makes it seem very chirpy indeed.

Tom: It does. It’s just a shame it sounds like another, better riff.

Tim: Well I’ll take it whatever, as a retrospective of good times in the year. It’s nice.