Saturday Flashback: X Factor Finalists 2008 – Hero

Lurking in the background.

Tim: It’s probably time we discussed this. We’ve referred to it briefly on a couple of occasions, and ever since then it’s been lurking in the background, waiting to rear its beautiful, graceful head.

Tim: Now, I think this is marvellous.

Tom: It’s not beautiful, it’s not graceful, and it’s not marvellous.

Tim: It is, though. The emotion of the original is all there.

Tom: Yes, it is. Maudlin, saccharine emotion. Only this time, just in case it wasn’t drummed into you enough by the song, it’s backed up with Ken Burns Effect-photos of soldiers emoting. The only thing it’s missing is a big block of scrolling text which says “FEEL SAD NOW HURRRR”.

Tim: Oh, I have no problems whatsoever admitting the video is appalling – it is, by far, the worst thing about the song. It is the music where it shines, though, such as the key change – fairly impressive already in the original, here it’s been turned up to about 27. The only bad part of it is the vocals from Rachel at 2:33, which are just nasty, but they can be turned down a bit.

Tom: Musically, there’s nothing wrong with it. I’ll agree with that. It’s just so goddamned syrupy that it sends me into the musical version of hyperglycaemia.

Tim: Everything else? Brilliant, and I challenge you to provide an actual reason otherwise.

Tom: There’s a comment on YouTube from “PeterKaay94”, which says “How can you dislike this video? It’s for the armed forces you dicks.” I had a whole riff here about other fund-raising efforts that said commenter would then have to approve of, but frankly it just got a bit disrespectful so I’ve cut it.

Tim: Well as far as I’m concerned the cause has got nothing to do with it, and Mr 94 is speaking out of his arse. A song should stand out on its own merits, and being for charity should be no excuse whatsoever for weakness – JLS proved that.

Tom: Yes, it’s for a worthy cause, and yes, musically there’s nothing really wrong with it – but it just makes my skin crawl. That’s a reason.

Idol Allstars 2010 – All I Need Is You

You will, I am sure, be familiar with the idea of the reality TV charity single.

Tim: You will, I am sure, be familiar with the idea of the reality TV charity single – two years ago Simon Cowell gave us a version of Hero (marvellous) –

Tom: No it wasn’t.

Tim: – and last year we had a cover of…actually, I cannot for the life of me remember, largely because I do remember it being terrible. I think it had ‘Everybody’ in the title. And this Sunday we shall be treated to this year’s offering, apparently a cover of Heroes.

Tom: The only good thing is that it has to include Wagner. Bonus.

Tim: Hmm. Well, perhaps. Needless to say, Britain’s not the only country that does it; here we have what appears to be an original song – All I Need Is You, being sung live on Sweden’s Idol a couple of weeks ago:

Tim: Now this, JLS and Children in Need people, is a good charity single. It’s got a nice hook to nod along to right from the get go, the song has a blindingly obvious happy message, and best of all – they’re smiling! Can you imagine! Having fun while making music.

Tom: But it’s not a cover! You can’t have a big group charity single that’s not a cover these days. Even Band Aid 20 was a cover. It’s like film sequels – they want a song that’s bankable because they can’t count on the performances to carry it.

Tim: I don’t know, I think they can. Admittedly, at times it looks like they’ve forgotten about the existence of choreography, and it would be nice if someone gave the bearded blond guy some heroin and put him out of his misery, but musically it’s spot on. And the best thing? There’s absolutely no Wagner.

Tom: As someone who doesn’t watch the X Factor, I am still amused by Wagner every time he appears on Harry Hill’s TV Burp. He’s brilliant. Well done British public.

Gorillaz feat. Daley – Doncamatic (All Played Out)

Generally un-notable electronica.

Tom: Ah, Gorillaz. Damon Albarn’s cartoon project is still going, and still producing generally un-notable electronica. Whatever the singles from ‘Plastic Beach’ were, I can’t remember them; and the only reason ‘Dare’ actually lodged itself in my head was because of Shaun Ryder’s vocals. So I shouldn’t have been disappointed by this, but nevertheless I was.

Tim: How on Earth has it managed to go on for longer than Blur did? Unjust universe, I tell you.

Tom: I hoped for another ’19-2000′ (and the Soulchild remix of it, at that). I set my sights too high. The instrumental bridge, with its two-instrument synth and percussion line, actually made me cringe as my ears tried to work out what was going on.

Tim: Yes. The first time I heard it, the first ‘Doncamatic’ made me think ‘Ooh, it’s Barbra Streisand’ all over again, albeit a not-as-good alternative. On the other hand, the chorus is quite nice, and a song made from the last minute or so might work quite well. It’s just a shame that the rest of it’s a bit pointless.

Tom: I’m going to go and listen to ‘Feel Good Inc’ again to try and get this out of my head. Wait… no need. It’s gone.

Disco Rapido – We Play The Pipe

THAT’S RIGHT! It’s new Daz Sampson.

Tim: It was mentioned last Saturday that Daz Sampson crops up in all sorts of unlikely places. Since then, he’s got in touch* with another one, because THAT’S RIGHT! It’s new Daz Sampson.

* For any readers who may still be interested, he also informed us that Ben O’Brien was his manager who dreamed of being able to get taxis everywhere – Daz’s shout-out was a way of promising him that the money would soon flood in, and that he would be able to do just that.

Tom: And now, we’ve recorded the Ben O’Brien reference for posterity. Excellent. Right – what’s the new one? I’m bracing myself.

Tim: Well, this time, there’s a twist – he’s decided that enough is enough, and that with this one it’s all or nothing: if this doesn’t make the Top 10 he’s calling it a day. (And he’s also said that unlike Lisa Scott-Lee, he actually means it.)

Tim: So, basically, he’s calling it a day.

Tom: Now, don’t be quite so cynical. It doesn’t take much to get to the top 10 these da—hahaha, okay, I just heard it, he’s calling it a day.

Tim: Now, sorry Daz, but why couldn’t you have had a decent last stand? I have no idea, but the Facebook page says that acts they* like include Yolanda Be Cool and Riva Starr, which suggests to me that what they’ve really done is look for weird stuff that’s done well recently and tried to copy it.

* There’s another bloke involved – no idea who.

Tom: I don’t want to be too harsh, because the guy’s actually emailed us and seems like a decent bloke. That said, it’s blatant style-copying. A retro sample, a beat over the top, an occasional vocal sample, and a stupid cut-price video. Although, fair credit to them, the Blackpool Illuminations bit at the end did actually make me smile a bit.

Tim: Only problem is: the song’s more than a little bit crap. But, to be brutally honest, so were the others, really. They only succeeded because they were novelties, it was the right time of year for unusual dance tracks and people got caught up in the mood. Now, however, it’s the middle of November and it’s cold and wet outside; if people want to dance to unusual music they’ll wait until Slade or Wizzard comes on the radio, rather than listen to what Pete Tong’s got lined up for them on a Friday night.

Tom: There’s the inevitable slew of crap novelty Christmas cash-in records coming, isn’t there? Damn it, ever since downloads started counting for the chart the race for Christmas Number One has been a horrid race-to-the-bottom bunfight. Well, apart from last year’s Rage Against The Machine bit, of course.

Tim: Farewell Daz – it was good while it lasted. Well, slightly good. Ish.

Tom: He is the UK’s number 4 MC. Never forget that.

Tim: Hang on – I’ve just reread his e-mail, and he’s actually said the reverse, albeit slightly confusingly what with the Lisa Scott-Lee comparisons. If this is a hit, he’ll walk away. I guess we’ve got another fifteen years of Daz to come.

Tom: How has he not done a soap powder sponsorship yet? I mean, the link is obvious.

Tim: BANG! And Daz is gone.

Oh, if only it were that simple.

Erik Hassle – Standing Where You Left Me

There are many things right with this song.

Standing Where You Left Me by erikhassle

Tim: There are many things right with this song – the intensity of it going perfectly with the emotion, the high-pitched electric violiny type thing just before the bridge, the instrumental pauses beneath the first line of the chorus and the ‘oh my God’, to name just a few.

Tom: The drum fills in the middle of the verse, too – and the synth backing line.

Tim: However, I do have one complaint, and that is his treatment of the word ‘me’ at the end of the first line of each chorus. Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s very good, but I think he missed a trick there: if he’d lowered it a couple of notes, he’d have then be able to jump up an octave for after the bridge (à la Backstreet Boys), which would have been brilliant.

Tom: Hold on. So you think that…

Tim: He should go down on ‘me’? Yes. Yes I do.

Tom: Get out.

Tim: Now, you may be wondering, ‘Did Tim really come up with a point and go on about it for a whole paragraph, complete with YouTube references, solely to make a fairly lame joke? Well, yes. Problem?

Actually, I do think it’s a slightly valid point, but that aside, however, I think the song’s great. Although don’t go on YouTube looking for a live version – you’ll spend the whole time trying to work out why he’s got a large hamster living on his head.

Pet Shop Boys – Together

The new one isn’t a classic.

Tom: I listened to this – and then immediately went and listened to ‘Go West’, which is actually good.

The Pet Shop Boys have the same approach as Pink – put loads and loads of stuff out, eventually you’ll have enough classics to do a medley at the Brits. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a good approach, but it does mean it’s a bit disappointing when the new one isn’t a classic.

Tim: True. However, I think one problem here is the whole absence makes the heart grow fonder thing, because I’ve just listened to the rest of their previous greatest hits album from 2003 – Since when they’ve apparently released two new albums and five singles. Nope, me neither.

Tom: I remember one album and one single. To be fair, Love Etc was a very good single.

Tim: Maybe, but the fact remains that the vast majority of their songs are nowhere near as good as Go West, and this song is in fact a lot better than most of them. Of course it’s not as good as Go West – the chances of that would be near zero. It is, on the other hand, still a good song and deserves to be judged on its own merits.

So, its merits. The song as a whole has a lot of energy and vibrancy to it – it’s somehow managed to stay in the style of music they’ve always been known for, yet not seem dated at all.

Tom: I’ll grant it that. It’s their style, and it doesn’t seem dated. But it also doesn’t seem to be much good: it just plods along.

Tim: There are elements of The Journey Continues to it, which was a pleasant enough tune, but one thing I’m not particularly keen on is the way it temporarily ends after the first verse.

Tom: I’m not keen on that either. The ‘temporary’ part, I mean.

Tim: Overall, however, I think it rates as perhaps not excellent, but certainly jolly good, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it ended up on a few people’s ‘Top however many Most Played’ playlists.

Tom: Somewhere near Pink’s latest track.

Saturday Flashback: Special D. – Here I Am

Quite what sort of thought process led to this I can only imagine

Tim: So then, Tom. What do you say to a good old fashioned Cold War political song reimagined as a mid-2000s dance tune? Check this, from 2005.

Tom: That is, indeed, quite special.

Tim: Isn’t it just? I was going to suggest Come With Me, but then I remembered this, which is (a) less well-known and (b) far, far, far more worthy of discussion. Quite what sort of thought process led to this reworking of Nena’s 99 Luftballons I can only imagine, but the tune is only half of it. The lyric “Here I am, my brand new track, I made it ’cause you want me back” suggests someone inundated with fan mail, rather than somebody who had a big hit two years previously and who since then had released a steady flow of mediocre and slightly appreciated tracks.

Tom: What gets me is that’s the main lyric. It’s not the intro bit, which would be just-about-acceptable, although perilously close to doing a Flo Rida. That’s the whole song. It’s a meta-track, a track that’s entirely about itself. I hate meta-tracks. It’s like Tamperer’s appalling If You Buy This Record – take a well-known song, add a louder beat and some different vocal samples, and churn out another track.

Tim: Then, given that everybody’s heard Operation Blade (even if they don’t know it), what comes out of his mouth at 2:25 is just brilliant.

Tom: “I haven’t heard that,” I thought. And then I realised that, yes, I had heard it.

Tim: The video of five hot girls in a car race is, well, just plain odd.

Tom: Not when you think about who the target market is. They know their demographics.

Tim: Oh, I’ve got no problem with that – as bland and usual an idea as any other dance video. It’s the details, though – their names, for example, start off vaguely logical, but then drop it completely. We have ‘Speederella’ being a bit like Cinderella, ‘Gasolina’ continuing a princess pattern, being a bit like (albeit considerably less pleasant than) Thumbelina, and then ‘Velocity’ is a bit like, um, a science lesson. Right. And the ‘Oh, you’re so funny, putting the turntable on the wrong setting’ exchange comes out of absolutely nowhere.

Tom: That just seems normal for me, and here’s why: I’m used to listening to long-form mixes, like Deep Dance – there’s an obscure Wikipedia article for me – where those get dropped in all the time.

Tim: Having said all that: I love it.

Tom: Annoyingly, I’ve got to agree.

Sunday Girl – Stop Hey

Use your lungs, Sunday Girl!

Tim: Now, something British. To be more specific, ‘Stop Hey’ by Sunday Girl.

Tom: Ooh, that starts well.

Tim: Indeed – the intro for this is very very promising. Unfortunately, the rest isn’t quite as great, although I still like it. I prefer it to a lot of the other Eliza Doolittle/Diana Vickers/Lily Allen stuff that’s around at the moment, mainly because there’s still quite a bit of energy to it, for the most part.

Tom: A decent bit of synth work in the background, as well. Unlike Eliza Doolittle and her ilk, though, she’s doing the ‘high pitched breathy’ voice – and with very rare exceptions, that just seems frustrating to me. This is not one of those exceptions. Use your lungs, Sunday Girl!

Tim: Three things about the video:

  • it’s not for cat people
  • that umbrella looks ridiculously flimsy, and doesn’t she know it’s bad luck to open one indoors?
  • you can distract yourself from the boring bit before the bridge by imagining what it would sound like if she inhaled the helium from every single one of those balloons.

Tom: My word, that’s a sad looking dog. Must have listened to the record a few times.

Shakira feat. Dizzee Rascal – Loca

They’re going through the motions rather than actually having fun.

Tom: I saw the artists’ names and immediately thought “hell yes”. The woman who sang the best-selling song of the 21st century so far, and the best British rapper ever? (Don’t argue. I’ve seen him live, and I’ve never seen a crowd get quite so excited.)

Tom: It’s a typical Latin-influenced track, with singing from Shakira and verses from Mr. Rascal (as he’s formally known).

Tim: He actually is.

Tom: That’s what you’d expect from a collaboration like this – and there’s even a point where they trade lines as well. But what’s missing seems to be the energy. It almost seems like they’re going through the motions rather than actually having fun recording it.

Tim: One of the problems is that for the most part, Shakira’s getting through so many words that she’s practically unintelligible, so I have no idea what the song’s about. That was particularly the case when Dizzee was talking about feeling ‘el presidente’, and I spent a good couple of minutes wondering what orange juice had to do with anything, before I realised I was thinking of Del Monte.

There’s one time you can definitely understand her though, and it leads to a question I have long wanted to know the answer to: what is it with rappers and wanting to be called ‘daddy’ (or, in this case, ‘papi’)? It’s just plain weird, but it’s all over the place – Usher’s particularly guilty of it. Since when did incest become attractive?

If I was a girl, and my boyfriend said that to me, I would say to him, ‘Okay, I’ll call you daddy, but only if you call me mummy,’ and then I’d watch him run screaming from the room.

Tom: That’s a mental image that’s going to stay with me for a while.

Anyway, the lack of enthusiasm’s the same in the video – him and her have blatantly been filmed separately, perhaps even on different continents with the help of some bluescreen.

Tim: Actually, that is one heck of a distracting video, for a blindingly obvious reason.

Tom: Well, yes, I think anyone who…

Tim: …and that is Shakira’s attitude towards basic safety practices.

Tom: Wait, what?

Tim: She wears kneepads when she’s rollerblading in her very small amount of clothing – looks a bit odd, but it’s okay because it’s demonstrating good procedure for any children watching. However, then she goes on a motorbike without any real torso protection and no sign of any helmet (which is almost certainly illegal, by the way). Totally mixed messages.

Tom: How well will the American market react to “that girl is a nutter” being in there? No idea, but I hope it helps Mr. Rascal crack America. He deserves it.

Shayne Ward – Gotta Be Somebody

He clearly thinks he’s gone back in time five years

Tim: Shayne Ward’s BACK! apparently. Well, that’s what he said on The X Factor on Sunday, so it must be true. Here he is with his very own version of Nickelback’s Gotta Be Somebody.

Tom: Otherwise known as every Nickelback song ever.

Tom: The autotune on that is actually offensive. When used properly, it can be a decent effect. That’s just horrible.

Tim: Now, he clearly thinks he’s gone back in time five years, because let’s be frank: this is not just a song from an X Factor winner – it is an X Factor Winner’s Song:

  • Cover of a fairly well known song.
  • A quiet start then kicking in a little bit halfway through the first verse.
  • Good chorus, leading out to a second verse with considerably more energy than the first.
  • Nice bit of calm in the bridge.
  • Musical exposion to follow.

You may doubt this formula, especially parts two and three, but check any one you want. All it’s missing is Dermot in the video yelling his name.

As a winner’s song. it’s not bad. Decent source material helps, nice bit of synth work in the background brings it up to date.

Tom: I really dislike this, because it’s got the major-key chord structure that forces my brain to get enthusiastic about it. Like you say, it is a Winner’s Song, and for that reason I hate it.

Tim: As an actual song, well, it’s still not bad, but it sure as hell isn’t good. It’s just formula, and isn’t remotely exciting. Even in the loud ending he doesn’t seem particularly energetic – it’s as if he went into a studio and said, ‘This sort of worked last time, let’s have another go. It’ll be something to pass the time.’

Tom: I think that’s the damned autotune.

Tim: Normally, a song like this would have four months of two hour weekly TV adverts, and so success is a given, deserved or otherwise, because it’s been implanted in the nation’s brain. This hasn’t, and so doesn’t get a free pass.

Tom: I’m about to say something that I don’t think has ever been said before: the Nickelback version is better.

Tim: Problem with the video: there is no way Shayne Ward has a stalker willing to take 230 pictures of him.