Elton John and Leon Russell – When Love Is Dying

Soulful, melancholic Elton.

Tom: I’m not doubting that Elton John is a genius. If I could have seen the Red Piano tour when I was in Vegas a few years ago, I would have been there; he’s brilliant. But like the Pet Shop Boys and many other artists, he’s put out a lot of singles in his time – and a lot of them have sunk without trace. The reason he can put a double CD ‘Greatest Hits’ out isn’t necessarily representative of his hit rate, but testament to just how many songs he’s written and sung.

Leon Russell may be less familiar to you; he’s just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and has a biography that is essentially the history of modern popular music.

And so last year, the two of them brought out an album called The Union – and a single is eventually making it out to give it a post-release boost. I’m glad of that – because if it’s anything to go by I may well have to get the full album. This is textbook soulful, melancholic Elton – “Your Song” or “Sacrifice” rather than “Crocodile Rock”.

Tim: Not bad, really. Halfway through each verse I want to jump in with ‘I’ll stand by you’, but it’s decent enough.

Tom: I don’t think it’s going to enter the public consciousness in the same way as those earlier songs, but it’s still making me sway in my seat and hold my metaphorical lighter in the air. To still be releasing music this good after forty years of releasing and performing? That’s amazing right there. Cliff Richard could only manage the bloody “Millennium Prayer” after forty years.

I do wish the bloke with the bass drum would tone it down a bit though – and I’m sure there’s a bit more autotune-tweaking than there really needs to be in there, which is a bit of a shame.

JLS feat. Tinie Tempah – Eyes Wide Shut

This was inevitable.

Tom: I suppose a collaboration like this was inevitable. There’s only so far you can go with boy-band ballad harmony, and getting someone else in to do the rap vocals is a better idea than letting any of the condom-peddlers have a go.

Tim: Yeah, but – he isn’t, really. He’s there for less than fifteen seconds; according to maths that works out to about six and half percent, which barely justifies the ‘featuring’. The cynical part of me would suggest that they’re aiming for the Tinie Tempah fans, because for whatever reason the JLS fans aren’t enough. God knows why, though – they’ve not really had a problem getting a number 1 before now.

Tom: There’s hardly any interaction between the two, though. JLS sing. And then Tinie Tempah raps for a bit. And then JLS sing for a bit more. With the exception of a couple of quick exclamations at the end, it’s almost as if Tinie just recorded his verse to a click track and let the producers paste it in later.

Tim: Weird thing: Tinie’s yelling out the names, but thirty seconds into the song after JLS have done their bit. It’s as though they correctly thought, ‘Yelling out names at the start of the record is silly. Let’s make our song properly,’ but then he came along and said, ‘What’s this? I’m a rapper, I can’t be in a song but not yell my name out a the start! How dare they try and stop me.’

Tom: Speaking of which: I reckon you’re thinking “this sounds a lot like Calvin Harris’ I’m Not Alone“. And you’d be right – because Calvin Harris produced this too, not so much ‘laying down’ the track as ‘copying and pasting’ it.

And, while we’re at it, did they really have to rip the title from Stanley Kubrick? I’m assuming JLS aren’t getting involved in masked orgies. If they were, the tabloids would be onto them like a shot.

Europlop’s Sunday Mashups: Jay-Z, Rihanna & E.S. Posthumus – Run This Town / Posthumus Zone

Big.

Tom: It’s Superbowl Sunday, Tim.

Tim: Ooh, and you like American Football. Educate me, whilst I take a seat.

Tom: Last year’s Superbowl was the most watched television event in American history, as somewhere in the region of a hundred million people saw the underdog New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts. Now how do you open a show like that?

The advertisers are going to want something spectacular – after all, they’re paying somewhere around five million dollars per minute of commercial time. And the viewers are going to want something that beats previous years. In 2006, for example, Billy Joel sang the American national anthem, interspersed with live footage of American troops watching in Baghdad and a camera feed from the cockpit of one of the military jets that fly over the stadium exactly at the song’s conclusion. That’s how you open a damn show. (Ignore the autotune – nobody told Billy Joel they were going to use it.)

So what does CBS, last year’s broadcaster, do?

Tim: Something quite big?

Tom: Well, they get Jay-Z and Rihanna, pretty much the biggest names in music. And then they get ES Posthumus, who write incredible, overblown electric-guitar-and-orchestra themes. And then they mash them together.

Tom: The final released version of this was “clean”, but for the sheer spectacle I’ve linked to the broadcast version. This is how you get a hundred million people hyped up for a game. If your jaw didn’t drop at that incredible slow-motion jump near the end, then I think there might be something wrong with you.

I just worry that ITV will try and do something like this for the FA Cup Final one year. They’d use Dizzee Rascal. It just wouldn’t be the same. It’s not British at all, and – just this once – that’s what’s so great about it.

And as for this year? It’s the Fox network’s turn to broadcast it, so I’m assuming it’ll be something suitably over-the-top. And hopefully, the Packers will take the trophy as well.

Tim: Well in that case… go Packers?

Saturday Flashback: Darin – You’re Out Of My Life

I don’t think I could fault this, even if I wanted to.

Tim: A few weeks ago, we mentionedthat various countries were starting to look for their Eurovision entries. Well tonight, it’s the big one, as Melodifestivalen, the second most important music competition of the year, gets going in Sweden; as such, it’s only appropriate that we look back at a previous entry. Darin entered with this last year, and I reckon we’ve gone too long without mentioning him.

Tom: I reckon I’d put Lovekiller as one of the best songs of last year. It’s so overblown and yet brilliant.

Tim: I’ll be honest – I don’t think I could fault this, even if I wanted to.

Tom: This is how you make a slow, emotional schlager song without it seeming slow and plodding. Basic chord changes, emotional vocals, soaring choruses.

Tim: Admittedly it’s not as good as Lovekiller or his other recent and brilliant single Microphone, but it’s still great. Music: top notch. Lyrics/emotion relation: perfect.

Tom: And the key change?

Tim: Key change: absolutely superb.

Tom: Superb enough that my jaw genuinely dropped.

Tim: All round: flipping marvellous.

Tom: Oh yes.

Tone Damli – No Way Out

Fairly simple, really: nice tinkly piano intro, soft female vocals.

Tim: So, let’s see what we’ve got here. Fairly simple, really: nice tinkly piano intro, soft female vocals (as, really, we’d expect from a female), gentle drums and an early-Avril-Lavigne style chorus.

Tom: I was distracted and bored through the verse, until that Avril-style chorus kicked in – at which point I let out a quick “ooh!” of surprise. The chorus is brilliant, but you do have to plod through the rest of the song to get there.

Tim: True, but then with it building up a bit towards the end (admittedly passing through a very, VERY disappointing bridge exit), it’s basically a fun, fairly excited and happy piece of pop music, and anybody who doesn’t like it must have a heart of stone. Of STONE!

Tom: I do like it. I just wish there was a bit more energy in it – particularly that bridge exit, which winds up to a key change that never happens. If ever there was a track for Almighty Records to remix…

Anna Abreu – Hysteria

Now, this is proper pop.

Tim: Despite only coming third, this lady is the most successful artist to come out of Finnish Pop Idol. Here’s an example of why.

Tom: She sounds just a bit like Cascada. Just a bit.

Tim: Now, this is proper pop – it has loud music, loud singing, lots of ‘oh-oh-oh’s and just generally lots of fun. After the first verse it never really calms down, and I don’t have much of a problem with that.

Tom: It’s a long first verse, and I couldn’t actually tell when it transitioned into the chorus. I’m assuming it was at the bizarre Casio keyboard tom-tom fill.

Tim: Somewhere around that, but does it matter exactly? It’s plenty vibrant enough anywhere, and while it could perhaps do with something new happening towards the end, it’s got so much to it already there’s not a lot that could be added without breaking music.

Tom: I’d actually cut it a bit – it does go on.

Tim: You think? Normally with a song like this I’d be the first one to hurry it along to finish, but even at four minutes it doesn’t seem too long, partly because there isn’t any filler there – there isn’t even really an instrumental part of the bridge that could be cut.

Tom: I disagree, but it’s not like I’d leave a dancefloor in disgust if it came on.

Tim: Well, I think: top notch.

Star Pilots – Heaven Can Wait

Kicks in hard and never really stops.

Tim: I trust you’ll remember In The Heat Of The Night, their big hit from a couple of years back; here’s their latest.

Tom: Bloody hell, Tim, that kicks in hard and never really stops. My brain immediately thought ‘Top Gun’, but that might have been connected to the fact they’re called ‘Star Pilots’.

Tim: When the chorus hits it’s almost like a different song – it suddenly goes from ‘mmm, so so’ to ‘ooh, yes’ in a single beat. The first chorus just about provides enough energy to ride out the second verse, so as long as you don’t mind a mediocre first part, I think you’ll be happy here.

Tom: Now, you see, I disagree entirely: I think the verses and bridge are great – it’s like an 80s song with modern production values. But the chorus lets it down a bit for me: it’s just that the verses are so full-on that it’s hard for the chorus to compare. Until that key change. That glorious key change.

Tim: Oh, isn’t it just fantastic? The best thing for me: it was entirely unexpected – it came out of nowhere and just was excellent. I do have one tiny niggle though: as the main version of the song, this goes on a bit too long. I can understand as a dance mix it would need to stuff on the end for the DJ to mix out, but as this is it should end at around the 3:15 mark, I feel.

Aside from that, since it’s easy enough to trim a song manually: excellent work.

Blue and all that Eurovision business.

People have thrown a strop. They’re wrong.

Tim: As I’m sure we’ve all heard, British boyband Blue have been chosen by the BBC to represent Britain at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf, and unsurprisingly lots of people have got all mardy and thrown a strop about it. They’re wrong.

Tom: Yes they are.

Tim: They’re wrong, at least for the time being, and we shall now demonstrate why, through means of a systematic deconstruction of their arguments:

1. We didn’t get to decide. True, but are you honestly telling me that you would happily have chosen one of the six that were in Your Country Needs You last year? They weren’t your first choice, and never would have been. Until the BBC gets the money to splash out on a massive competition that about four thousand people will enter, with internet voting and tickets that sell out in half an hour, it’s never going to be a proper public choice.

Tom: A British Melodifestivalen will only happen when British folks take Eurovision seriously, which is approximately never. And if we actually had a Melodifestivalen, a comedy act would win, and we all know how that worked out for Dustin the Turkey.

Tim: 2. Blue are a crap boyband. Why can’t we have something good? You, person who says this, would make this argument whatever happened and whoever eventually got chosen unless it was Eliza Doolittle or Tinie Tempah. Shut up. They’ve actually been successful, and not just in this country but across a large part of Europe. Your personal music taste doesn’t count.

Tom: They’re perfect for Eurovision, too – inoffensive, well-tested, and popular. Don’t forget that Lena

Tim: Erm, Tom? Nope, he’s wandered off. But yes, Lena, who won it last year, was popular across Europe.

3. They haven’t done anything for over five years. Well, at least they’ve done something in the past, and aren’t a complete non-entity. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have an act that was successful a while back than an act that’s never been successful. We know they can sing properly, and to large crowds as well, so there shouldn’t be any worries there. Also, Katrina and the Waves hadn’t had a new single for over seven years before they won it back in 1997.

4. It will ruin their careers. And that’s our problem how, exactly? It may well be true, especially if they don’t do very well – their former manager certainly believes it to be the case – but so what? It’s not really like they have much of a future career to ruin, to be frank.

5. It makes us look desperate to win. Really, though? Even if that were the case – and personally if anything I think it makes us look keen, a good thing – it’s better than making us look like we can’t be arsed, which is certainly what anybody who saw last year’s car crash of a selection program would have thought. I can’t really remember the highlight, although I think it might have been Graham Norton forgetting how to read an autocue, or perhaps Pete Waterman & Mike Stock being furious that the act they’d clearly written the song for got voted off because she forgot the words.

So, to everybody who’s already started whining: hush. If you’re going to complain, at least wait a couple of months (really, BBC? that long?) until you’ve heard the song. Then we’ll let you bitch about it, and in fact may well join you.

Enrique Iglesias feat. Ludacris – Tonight (I’m Fuckin’ You)

This is an incredibly creepy song.

Tom: There are some songs that hide their meanings in cryptic metaphor; there are some that take a direct approach. This is one of the latter.

Tim: It is a bit, isn’t it?

Tom: I admire quite how direct he is, but let’s be honest: if he wasn’t Enrique Iglesias, this would be an incredibly creepy song.

Tim: That sentence should be reworded: ‘let’s be honest: this is an incredibly creepy song.’

Tom: The trouble is that, while it’s fairly listenable to start with, even a rap bridge from Ludacris can’t really justify its four-minute length. Once the shock value wears off, that synth backing really starts to grate – and there’s no build either. The first chorus is just as energetic as the last, and it ends on a whimper rather than (hurr) a bang.

Tim: It’s not that listenable, though – it’s the autotune, and it really turns me off, I mean, why? We all know he can sing the right notes, he doesn’t need autotuning – is there a point to it other than to make him sound like a robot?

Tom: That’s the style these days. Doesn’t matter if you can sing or not: you’ve got to sound a bit like Cher. The radio edit is of course a bit toned town – to “Lovin’ You” – and without that bit of swearing the whole song seems to fade into nothing. Pity.

Tim: Hmm. I remember when Enrique was a nice person, singing nicely about being a hero, and kissing away the pain. Now’s he’s been sucked in by hip-hop and turned into a dick.

Kerli – Speed Limit

A whole song about an actual traffic jam. (Plus a bonus Estonia anecdote.)

Tim: I don’t think we’ve been to Estonia yet. Let’s rectify that.

Tom: I went to Estonia once – to Tallinn, the capital. According to my diary, “there’s not much to do if you’re not big on museums”, and as soon as you leave the World Heritage Site that is the old city, you run into a fairly seedy district of strip clubs and stag-night bars.

Also, I happened to go there when the gay pride parade was going through town – and, next to it, an “anti gay pride” parade. The latter was six people with one banner, on which featured two stickmen having sex with a big Ghostbusters-style “NO” symbol over the top of it.

Anyway, sorry. Estonia. Right. Who’s this then?

Tim: Now on first listen, this would appear to be…

Tom: …it’d appear to be a Jimmy Hart version of SMiLE.dk’s 1998 song “Butterfly”. That chorus melody is remarkably similar, but probably just far enough away that they won’t get sued for it.

Tim: Hmm – it is a bit similar, isn’t it? Mind you, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, because even if this Estonian act has ripped off a fairly obscure Danish track, they’ve done good stuff with it.

Anyway, before you interrupted I was going to say that it sounds like a whole song about an actual traffic jam, which would be quite impressive. Unfortunately, it’s just a slightly dodgy metaphor for a relationship, involving enough driving instructions for TomTom to make a new voice with and a complaint that she isn’t being played on the radio; however, we should give her points for dragging it along for almost a full three minutes.

Tom: No, we shouldn’t. It gets old so, so quickly.

Tim: Yes, but it’s the effort and the dedication that counts. Of course it’s ridiculous, and of course it gets old, but when she’s so desperate to keep it going that she talks about ‘three-ways like a parking lot’ that just can’t not be appreciated.

As music, I think this is good, it keeps you moving – the verses are a little monotonous, but they have a decent enough rhythm to them to keep you bouncing along until the next chorus, and the choruses have a properly nice sing-along feel to them.

Tom: Since all I can hear through the chorus is the words ‘ripped off’ repeating in my head, I’m afraid I disagree – it’s just monotonous to me. It’s got a decent closing chorus, I suppose, but that can’t redeem it for me.

Tim: Seriously? You can’t let that go? I think this is just great, and not least because there’s also a proper pronunciation of the word ‘hazy’, which is always nice, and to be perfectly honest, I’m slightly gutted this is being released now, because it wouldn’t be at all bad as a Eurovision entry.

I do, however, feel that Buffalo Roll would have been a better title. (I am aware that the actual lyric is ‘bump in the road’, but that’s beside the point.)

Tom: And now I can’t unhear it. Well done, Tim.