Joe McElderry – Wonderful Dream (Holidays Are Coming)

“I think this might actually be the end of civilisation.”

Tim: Something I only learned (and was genuinely amazed by) a few days ago: this song wasn’t written purely for the Coke advert.

Tom: Huh. And despite generally trying to avoid adverts, even I’ve heard of that.

Tim: At least, that’s what I thought briefly, until I checked a bit further and found Wikipedia was really badly worded (who’d have thought?).

Tom: Ah, fair enough. So let me get this straight: it was written for the commercial, and then got turned into a track?

Tim: Indeed – in 2001 an American singer decided to, um, expand it (probably the most generous term possible) and the result is now actually a staple of German festive radio. And now our little Joe (as, I’m reliably informed, everybody in South Shields refers to him) has gone and covered it.

Tom: So a reality show winner, singing a song based on an advertising jingle. I’m not sure, but I think this might actually be the end of civilisation.

Tim: Yeah, thought I’d have trouble getting you on board, but I actually like the whole thing. It sounded weird at first, because it’s basically two songs being played at the same time – the advert underneath it, then some verses, a new chorus and some extra tune being written around it, and so what if the choruses end up on top of each other?

Tom: Aye; it sounds like a not-particularly-competent mashup.

Tim: But here’s why it’s brilliant: first, both of the songs have amazing lyrics. “Holidays are coming” is, yes, generic American nonsense, but it’s permeated over here and it sounds great, and “a wonderful dream of love and peace/joy and fun for everyone” can only really be disliked by someone with the emotional reach of the Grinch.

Tom: Hello.

Tim: Yup. Second: because it’s from the Coke advert. I know it’s all commercial and awful and everything, but damn, that’s one happy advert.

Tom: Speak for yourself.

Tim: So is this another unnecessary cover? Well, let’s be honest, it’s an unnecessary song, because if there’s one trend we really don’t need it’s existing adverts being made into full length songs, but I reckon it’s a very enjoyable unnecessary song, and if the cover hadn’t happened I’d not have known that this song existed at all, and my life would be that much less complete. So it’s GREAT.

Joe McElderry – Here’s What I Believe

It desperately needs something special.

Tim: This here’s the lead single from his fourth album (or second, if you don’t count the classical one or the Christmas covers one).

Tim: No, he doesn’t.

Tom: Good, because that’s a stupid belief.

Tim: It is. You’ll likely be relieved to know that he also doesn’t believe that the sun will never set upon an argument, which is equally stupid.

Tom: Oh, don’t get me started on that bloody song.

Tim: Now this song pretty much fits the template we came up with last week, so I won’t say much about it, except that it desperately needs something special to kick it at the end, because when the instrumentation’s that calm in the background an extra ‘ohhh’ in the background just doesn’t cut it.

Tom: He’s targeting the Radio 2 audience – and not unsurprisingly, they’re the first to play it. But I didn’t just link to Robson and Jerome up there to remind you of how bad pop music can get – it’s also there to demonstrate the absolute other end of the scale. Two minutes long, gospel choir, bells, designed to hit every emotional beat as cheaply as possible.

This is about as “middle of the road” as you can get, and it’s probably going to sink because of it.

Tim: Almost without a doubt, yes.

I would like to say, though, that I feel a tad sorry for Joe, because one thing this song does do is demonstrate the fact that he’s got a bloody good voice. Dammit, he won the biggest TV singing contest there is but then pretty much got roundly ignored, and I don’t really understand why. Maybe it’s just that he’s a guy, and male winners have never done well (every single one of them got forgotten about in the recent promo for the new series), but if that’s the case then it’s a shame.

Tom: Well, he’s not done badly. After all, there are countless vocalists who haven’t got as far as he has. He’s still playing big concerts. Don’t feel too sorry for him.

Tim: True, and I suppose it’s not like we have a shortage of pop stars, and I can’t say I missed him while he wasn’t around, but I do feel sorry for him.

Sonohra – There’s A Place For Us

They actually seem to be enjoying themselves.

Tim: Chances are, you’ve heard that the third Chronicles of Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has just been released.

Tom: The third? I missed the second entirely. Anyway, if this has spawned anything half as good as Lazy Sunday, I’ll be happy.

Tim: Well, this song is from the soundtrack. Sort of. It’s slightly odd: the official recording artist is Carrie Underwood, who put together a not altogether bad version, but alongside that various other acts from around the world have recorded their own versions, presumably for the noble cause that is selling more copies of the soundtrack. These acts include Sweden’s E.M.D. (who actually managed to perform a very good live version, if a little shaky on the vocals), Britain’s Joe McElderry (who decided that one song wasn’t enough for him and did a somewhat better second one as well, especially if you quite liked the weird auto-tune fake backing singers effect on Ambitions) and Germany’s Victoria S (who, appropriately for the season, decided to dress up as a Christmas tree decoration).

Tom: Five versions of the same song? That’s a challenge even for me. Particularly with a song like that.

Tim: Yes – by and large, unfortunately, it’s not all that great. Somehow all of these separate groups/singers have taken what could (and indeed should) be a very emotional song, and seemingly stripped it of almost all feeling whatsoever.

Tom: Well, it’s a kids’ movie song. It’s not going to make adults that emotional. Apart from the ending of An American Tail. That can floor anyone and it is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE to cry at it, okay?

Tim: Um, yes. Yes Tom. But even if this is a kids; movie, when the lyrics are ‘We could be the kings and queens, of anything if we believe’, I want to be made to run to the kitchen, grab some tin foil, and make myself a crown.

Tom: You don’t need a song to do that, Tim.

Tim: Anyway, Sonohra, an Italian duo, did better than most.

Tim: What is it about this one that I like? I don’t know. Their voices work well on it, which helps – it seems to work better for me in a lower register – and the instrumentation’s quite a bit louder and especially noticeable in the re-entry after the bridge, which helps create a song you can properly nod your head to. Most of all, though, they actually seem to be enjoying themselves a bit, which always comes in handy.

Tom: It’s the rocky-bit during the first half of the chorus – the ‘kings and queens’ bit – that stands out for me. The rest is generic movie-soundtrack rubbish, and sadly one awesome bit of melody isn’t enough to save the whole song for me.

Tim: Hmm, fair point, I suppose, but I like it.

Tom: And I’ve just realised why I like it – it’s almost exactly the same as the good bit from Robyn’s Call Your Girlfriend. “The only way her heart will mend”, and all that. It’s a sudden descending major-key bit that stands out. At this point, I which I knew more about music theory.

Tim: Ooh, it is and all, isn’t it? Anyway, sod this – you’re right, I don’t need a song. Now where did I put the Pritt Stick? And has anyone got a throne I can borrow?

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 Bj√∂rk 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.