Westlife – Better Man

“It’s not often I want to skip back twenty seconds just to check that I actually did hear what I think I heard.”

Tim: Most of the time here, we like to feature tracks we enjoy. Often, though, they might not be all that great (in some cases they’re downright awful), but nonetheless fun to talk about. Now, I not saying I don’t enjoy this track, as it’s alright, but boy is there one particular thing worth mentioning.

Tom: The line “I felt things when we were naked”? The acting at the start, where it’s clearly not a proper recording session? Although that’s really quite nicely resolved with the outtake at the end.

Tim: Possibly worth a mention, yes, but not the main thing. Because it’s not often I want to skip back twenty seconds just to check that I actually did hear what I think I heard, but here, I genuinely did. That key change is just obscene.

Tom: I’m just annoyed that the childhood nostalgia flashbacks are the right years for my own childhood now.

Tim: Speak for yourself, I’ve got a good few years left, and I’m already enjoying it.

Saturday Reject: Arja Saijonmaa – Mina fyra årstider

“It would have done very well in the 1970s.”

Tim: Tom, would you care to learn about one of the greatest injustices ever to have occurred in the entirety of human history?

Tom: On the assumption that you’re talking about a Melodifestivalen reject and not actual depressing history, then, sure.

Tim: This came last in its heat.

Tim: Yes, it turned me off from the very first second. And yes, when she appeared I thought ‘oh, bloody hell’.

Tom: I’ll be honest, I was wondering what was wrong with you through that whole first verse. That’s a lovely song for children or for middle-of-the-road radio airplay, I thought, but it’s not exactly Eurovi– but then.

Tim: BUT THEN. In not too short an amount of time, that utterly delightful chorus came along, and everything became marvellous.

Tom: I mean, “marvellous” is a strong term. I’ll go for “not terrible”.

Tim: The song’s title translates to ‘My Four Seasons’, and it’s about how all year round the earth seems lovely when she and the song’s target are together. And with that message, the sudden joyous display of energy in the chorus and that sheet blowing around behind her like she’s some sort of fairy, this song does have quite a bit going for it.

Maybe it didn’t deserve to come first – scratch that, actually, I’m not sure it even deserved to graduate to Andra Chansen – but last? That’s just upsetting.

Tom: It would have done very well in the 1970s Eurovision, I reckon.

Velvet & Therese – Heart of Glass

“What could go wrong?”

Tim: A cover of a Blondie classic from two Swedish dancepop veterans, what could go wrong?

Tom: I mean, honestly, a lot of things, but sure, let’s tempt fate. What could go wrong?

Tim: Very little, it turns out. When I first heard it, I thought “hang on, have they actually done anything to this”, but then I relistened to the original for the first time in ages and realised that it’s a lot less energetic than I remember it being, and this has taken what was there and dialled it up enormously, and it’s utterly fantastic.

Tom: Whereas I disagree: to me, this sits in that uncanny cover-valley where it’s too close to the original. We’ve lost a lot of that great bassline, we’ve lost the interesting vocals and instruments, and it’s all been replaced with something a bit more generic. It is, as Jarvis Cocker would say, like the last days of Southfork. And what’s going on with those time signatures in the outro? That’s just uncomfortable.

Tim: This may well be slight heresy, but much like The Saturdays’ cover of Just Can’t Get Enough, part of me think this is what the original should have sounded like. It’s just that good.

Tom: I agree with your heresy about the Saturdays; but this, not so much.

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.